Baseball loses a friend in Harry Kalas

BOB ELLIOTT, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

MINNEAPOLIS -- The door to the visiting clubhouse swung open yesterday afternoon and slowly filled with a hulking figure.

Eventually, moving from the dim light of the tunnel into the bright clubhouse, the player came into focus.

It was obvious Scott Rolen had heard.

His hair was tussled. His eyes were bloodshot.

He looked like crap. Like he'd lost a dear friend.

He had.

"You heard?" Rolen asked.

We nodded yes and expressed sympathies over the loss of his friend, Philadelphia Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas, 73.

The Hall of Fame broadcaster died yesterday afternoon in Washington D.C., sitting in the press box before the Phillies played the Washington Nationals.

"Not a good trip to Starbucks," Rolen said. "I was out walking and a neighbour from Philadelphia phoned with the awful news."

We saw the similar looks on face of longtime Jays employees and fans when broadcaster Tom Cheek passed.

A member of the family was gone. Forever.

"He was a fan, a broadcaster, a living legend," said Rolen, who played seven seasons with the Phillies. "I was thinking how many lives Harry touched and how much those people hurt right now. I can't imagine how long a line that list would be.

"He was very close with (broadcasters) Larry Anderson and Chris Wheeler, but that's not fair to mention two people. Harry was friends with everyone. If you met him once you were his friend."

We first met the man with the baseball-shaped heart in the 1980s while covering the Montreal Expos. At the St. Louis Bar and Grill one night in 1993, he sang Frank Sinatra's High Hopes.

He grabbed the microphone to sing it again at Citizens Bank Park after the Phillies won the World Series last year.

Rolen was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2002 and every time he played against the Phillies, Kalas stopped by to hug Rolen.

There were good years but mostly bad years, but the Phillies travelling group always had fun.

We remember Kalas' partner Richie Ashburn telling Larry Bowa in a round of golf: "You hit that ball so hard it was a Titleist going into the woods and a Wilson coming out."

This spring, travelling secretary Frank Coppenbarger told the Phillies they'd need passports due to an interleague trip to the Rogers Centre. Anderson asked: "Do we passports to go to Dunedin?"

"Harry loved life, not one bad bone in his whole body," Rolen said. "His accomplishments stand on their own. If you knew him you understood the accomplishments. My heart aches for the people of Philadelphia. He was an icon, a man of the people and that transcended everything. He was bigger than his accomplishments."

Rolen was asked if he would play last night?

"The Phillies are playing, I'll play," Rolen said.

Kalas joined NFL Films as a narrator in 1975 increasing his fan base.

Jays third base coach Nick Leyva, who managed the Phillies from 1989-91, was a friend of Kalas as well.

"My wife (Chele) said he was where loved to be," Leyva said. "We'll all miss him. The Phillies were his life, but he was the voice of Philadelphia. I don't know if everyone in Philadelphia knew the names Mike Schmidt or Dr. J (Julius Irving).

"Everyone knew Harry, from NFL films to Blue Cross and car commercials.

"He was like E. F. Hutton. If Harry spoke, you listened. What Tom Cheek was to Toronto, Harry was to Philadelphia."

And sometime in the next while up there on a baseball cloud, Kalas will sit down alongside Cheek to rehash that 1993 World Series.

Farewell, old friend.


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