Monday marks eleven years to the day of the death of Phillies legend Harry Kalas. To commemorate the date, I figured I’d take the time to tell you the story of my first and only interaction with Harry the K.
It was early January of 2009. I was in 5th grade. I was over a foot shorter, around 100 pounds lighter, had the hair of a young Jonah Hill, and I had the overbite of the century. It was a tough look, but my folks thought I was fine and dandy so that was all I needed to hear.
I was also, as I still am today, a ride-or-die Phillies fan. It’s in my blood. I was born and raised 20 minutes outside of Philly, where I still live today. My pops worked on the Phillies’ grounds crew for parts of two decades, working two World Series (including the 1980 title) and two All-Star games during that time. We’ve had partial season tickets at various points throughout the years as well, almost never missing an opportunity to go to a game.
So the Phillies run deep, and January of ’09 was right around the peak of my Phillies fandom. Nowadays it’s easy to forget how glorious a time that was to be a Phillies fan. They had just delivered the city it’s first pro sports title in 25 years. They were oozing with talent and personality. Jimmy Rollins was swag. Ryan Howard was the big piece. Chase Utley was the man. Cole Hamels was Hollywood. Shane Victorino was nitrous oxide in human form. Brad Lidge was immaculate. And Charlie Manuel was the fearless leader.
That whole team was my childhood. So did I do the one thing all fans should be required to do when their favorite team does something they haven’t done in almost 30 years and attend the ensuing parade? No. Why you might ask? Because 11-year-old me felt that going to my school’s Halloween parade that day dressed as Slash from Guns N’ Roses was more important than a championship parade. Sick logic, 11-year-old me!
Anyway, as you could probably assume, I was pretty down on the fact I didn’t go. So I started to try and think of some way I could celebrate that team in another manner. What I ended up deciding on was doing something related to my school’s “daily morning broadcast”. I was the sports guy, so I figured why not try and interview somebody from the team on the show.
But I didn’t want to try and do it with any of the usual names. No J-Roll, Chase, or Ryan Howard. Too generic, and I knew there was absolutely no shot they’d actually do it. That’s why I honed in on Harry Kalas.
Harry the K was the soundtrack to all of the dopeness that was the ’08 Phillies. I really can’t think of anyone else who was more fit for the task. Harry was an absolute legend, on top of being insanely talented. He’d been announcing Phillies games since the Nixon administration. He was the voice of NFL Films for decades. He was in countless commercials and TV spots. The man was everywhere. If you were a Phillies fan living in the Delaware Valley in those days, Harry Kalas was as much a part of your spring, summer, and fall days as almost anything.
If I could somehow catch his attention and get him to do this thing, saying it’d make up for not going to the parade would be criminally understating it. Plus it’d be huge for delivering me some much-needed fifth-grade clout.
So right after New Year’s, I churned out the most eloquently composed piece of writing I had ever written up to that point to send to Harry (this was before social media, so letters were still a thing):
I still didn’t think there was any shot he’d actually do this. What are the chances a guy like Harry Kalas would take time out of his busy schedule to appear on some random elementary school’s broadcast show that literally only teachers, administrators, and students would see?
But naive and uber-positive 11-year-old me figured why not, and we sent the letter anyway.
Around a week and a half later, my mom and I get back to the house in the mid-afternoon after running some errands. We walked in the door, and my pops had a look on his face I’d only seen maybe twice before. Something had him shook. He just said, “check the voicemail”. And sure enough, it was the man Harry himself. He said he wanted to try and help me out with my project and wanted me to give him a call back to talk about it.
I stared at the phone for so long after hearing that. It was like God called the house. Not only that, but Harry the K was actually quite possibly going to come to my school and do this interview with me.
We immediately called him back but it went to voicemail. Side note, he unsurprisingly had the most fire voicemail message in the history of mankind. It was a mish-mash of all of his iconic phrases and quips from over the years. I could’ve listened to it on a loop for hours.
Not ten minutes after leaving that voicemail, we get a callback. It’s Harry. My folks force me to answer the phone.
With the phone feverishly shaking in my hand, I answered, “Hello?”
“Joey! It’s Harry Kalas here”, Harry said in that unmistakable baritone voice of his.
Now I would tell you in detail what he said after that, but when I realized I was actually having a conversation with the guy I grew up listening to call games for my favorite team, I blacked out. Tried speaking, didn’t work. Tried listening, sounded like it was Charlie Brown’s teacher on the other end of the line. Nodding or any physical actions weren’t an option. So after trying in vain for what felt like an eternity to tell him all about my idea, I just handed the phone off to mom.
After my mom talked with him for a little bit, she handed the phone back to me. By that point I had miraculously gotten my composure back. Harry didn’t make any guarantees, but he wanted to do everything he possibly could to help me out with my project. He told me he was undergoing a heart procedure in the near future and wanted me to keep that on the down-low. Once he fully recovered and was back in town, we were going to get back in touch sometime in April to hopefully set up the interview for a day in May.
Eventually, after some small talk, we wished each other well and ended the call. It’s been eleven years, and that whole experience is still the highlight of my life. Graduating high school, hitting my first home run, buying my first beer legally, all of that was cool. None of them come close to topping Harry Kalas calling my house. The interview, if it was really going to happen, would be the only thing that could potentially unseat it.
But like many things in my life, it wasn’t meant to be. That phone call was the only time I ever got to talk to the man. As we all know, Harry ended up passing away on April 13th of that year. It was a quasi-Kennedy assassination moment for a lot of us Phillies fans. We remember exactly where we were when we found out the news. I was out in my backyard just hanging out and doing my thing when my grandma of all people came running out to deliver the news to me.
I was pretty crushed. For one, that interview wasn’t going to happen now, which was a pretty big bummer to say the absolute least. But most importantly, game days as I knew them were not going to be the same. Up to that point in my life I had only ever experienced Phillies games with Harry acting as the soundtrack. It was odd for a while watching and listening to games without him.
Regardless, his legacy is no doubt going to last lifetimes. His taking the time to converse with an 11-year-old fan that he’d never met a day in his life says so much about who Harry was as a person. He didn’t have to respond to my letter, let alone call and offer to help me out with my project. Shoot, even if he sent me a post-it note with just his signature on it that would’ve been enough to make my year.
That’s why he’ll always be the GOAT in my book. That’s why he’s forever the man.
R.I.P. Harry the K