Category Archives: MLB

A powerful weekend in Philly sports

As a day well-spent brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death. – Leonardo da Vinci

First things first: my utmost commendations to the Phillies organization for a wonderful, touching, and heart-wrenching service for Harry Kalas on Saturday afternoon. Unless you are an alien from a planet renowned for its lack of emotion, you probably watched most of the procession through misty eyes. Lord knows this Pundit did.

I think the moment that will always stand out for me from the day, a moment that was just so beautiful and emotional, was watching Harry’s friends, family and members of the Phillies pass his casket down the line, as “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” played over the PA system. A proper send-off to a beloved man.

We’ll always love you, Harry. Do me a favor – ask Whitey if he can smell the rain coming up there in heaven, would you?

One final footnote to the procession – people around the country can say what they want about Philadelphia fans, conjuring up embellished stories of the day we murdered Santa Claus, or whatever the hell it was we did. But they can never say that this city does not love its own with a passion rarely found elsewhere. The key to that sentence, of course, is “its own.” Philly won’t call you its own just because you live here, or work here, or play here. Philly will call you its own if you bust your butt off, displaying a love for what you do and the people you do it with…if you’re good at what you do but never arrogant…if you give everything you have; and if that isn’t enough, you make no excuses, just give a little bit more next time…if you understand that we will ride you when you aren’t performing up to your capabilities, but we will embrace you wholeheartedly when you do…that our energy and excitement will propel you to victory if you put yourself in a position to win.

Harry understood that, embraced it, and embodied it. That fact, as much as his golden pipes, made him one of the most treasured figures this city has ever known.

Because, at the end of the day, this town isn’t for everybody. Let all of those who don’t understand grit, hard work, undying passion, despair in defeat, and unadulterated joy in victory live somewhere else. We will continue to live and die with every pitch, pass and shot. We will continue to heckle the slackers, praise the scrappers, and love our teams through thick and thin, even if that means the boos rain down in a stifling display of tough love.

This is Philadelphia – this is the place for those with a thick skin, a workmanlike attitude, and a heart almost too big for the chest it beats in.

This is our city. And Harry fit right in. You will not be forgotten, HK.

Now to the events on the diamond, ice and court. Continue reading

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There will be no Summer for us this year

Bob Ford wrote a wonderful piece about the death of Harry Kalas for the Inquirer this morning, noting that the loss of Harry was akin to losing other Philadelphia staples such as the Liberty Bell, the Art Museum Steps, or Boathouse Row. Harry was as much Philadelphia as he was a Philadelphian, and Bob articulated it with great skill. But it goes even deeper than that. If the following post seems to be backpacking off of Ford’s style a bit…well, it probably is. And I am not attempting to over-eulogize here, having provided one yesterday. But he touched on something in his article that I thought had legs, at least for one more delve into the soul of this town and game.

There will be no Summer for us this year – Spring, with its nippy breezes and frequent downpours and tentative warmth will have to settle in for longer this year. Try as it may to birth Summer – to nurture and develop its passionately sprouting vegetation, its long, sticky days, its yawning sunrises and fiery sunsets – Spring instead will dejectedly abort it before its infancy.

There will be no Summer for us this year, which will change our routine. The parking lot will be a somber place before games, patrons either arriving shortly before opening pitch, or sitting inside their cars, eating pre-made ham sandwiches, individual-sized bags of potato chips, and drinking from bottles of water and boxes of juice. Gone will be the crackling grills, the clckkkkk of beer tabs being opened, the whooshing nature of bean bags and metallic rings and small quates being tossed toward strangely-molded crates and wooden shelves. No pre-game talk will meander through the static of small radios; no music will come blaring from car speakers.

There will be no Summer for us this year, and I fear it will deeply affect our perceptions. Crackerjacks will taste like popcorn and peanuts, and hot dogs will lose their appeal and be chastised as greasy, processed meat. Lukewarm beer sweating on plastic cups will be disregarded on concrete steps, patrons insisting they had been ripped off and sold highly-priced water. Peanuts and sunflower seeds will remain shelled and ignored, or will be bought shell-less and heckled with artificial flavors, ushers across the ballpark scratching their brow as they walk along spotlessly clean rows. Cheeks will remain flatly pressed against faces, wads left in pockets or never purchased to begin with, suddenly tasting of glass rather than apple-stained tobacco. During the seventh inning, patrons will quietly flex the muscles in their legs, remaining in their seats.

There will be no Summer for us this year, and it will likely change the neighborhood. Where will the old men sit, having abandoned their front sidewalk, their folding chairs, their cigars, their tiny, bellowing radios? What happened to the clatter in the bar? Where did the chitting and the chatting folks go? Where are the rising yells and the withdrawing moans and the clank of freshly renewed pitchers set in the middle of tables? Why are so many of our televisions silent?

There will be no Summer for us this year, and it might reveal a few ghosts. Mighty Casey will strike out again, but lawyers will discover that Babe Ruth didn’t actually call his shot.  Along similar lines, sociologists will discover that Bobby Thomson’s home run was in fact not heard ’round the world. “(Dizzy)” will be removed from the plaque of Jay Hanna Dean, as will “The Say Hey Kid” from the one of Willie Mays. The ivy will be stripped from Wrigley’s walls, and the Green Monster will be lambasted and scorned as “frivolous.” Scientists will disprove that cities such as Boston or Chicago or Philly were cursed, insist that Carlton Fisk was ridiculous in trying to coax a fly ball fair, and rampantly deny that Mark Fidrych was a bird.

There will be no Summer for us this year, sadly changing the game. Balls will be balls and strikes will be strikes, and we’ll all just live with it. Fans will not wrack their brains, desperately conjuring up what they hope to be clever insults directed at impervious umpires. Managers will not storm out of the dugout and kick dirt at “Blue” or bump bellies with him, ignoring the urge to yell whatever it is they yell back and forth at one another. Baserunners will avoid making contact to break up double-plays or to dislodge the ball from a catcher on a play at the plate. Batters will ignore idiosyncratic routines before they hit; pitchers will move at an industrious, mechanical, predictable pace. There will be no huddles by the mound, and balks will be monitored by a computer program specifically designed to recognize them, alerting the umpires when they occur. Leads will be precisely measured and never intended to taunt opposing pitchers; more than one pick-off attempt or step-off-the-rubber will be considered a “delay of game.” Pitching behind batters or plunking them will be swiftly handled with fines, suspensions and anger-management courses; bench-clearing brawls will be broken up by mace-wielding cops and mediated by shrinks.

There will be no Summer for us this year, so Fall had best wake up from its slumber and begin to cool us down earlier this year. It won’t take much work to color the leaves, or to introduce bluster back into the air. Spring and Fall will finally meet, and we’ll seamlessly move from one to the other, only vaguely curious of of something we seemed to miss.

There will be no Summer for us this year; the soundtrack we knew it by went silent. Who will narrate its charm, its beauty, its passionate bravado? Who will gently coax us through the burnt-orange evenings, the heat-blanketed afternoons of weekend games? Where is that Voice that evokes the sensation of Summer itself, that revitalizes memories of Baseball lore and renews our fascination with the game’s offbeat idiosyncrasies?

Where is the Voice that perfectly endeared itself to our traditions?

There will be no Summer for us this year, at least not as we’ve always known it. This will be a new sort of Summer, a Summer of limbo, of recollection, of mug-hugging toasts and sentimental renditions of “High Hopes,” of the fading sound of “Outtaaaaa heeeeeere…” as it catches a breeze and wisps away in the air. This will be the epilogue of Summer as we know it, a book of 37 wonderful chapters coming to its close. Next year we will begin a new novel, hoping against hope that it will not resort to simple novelty. We expect more than that.

May we remember the Summer as we knew it fondly, keeping that Voice in our heads, and more importantly, in our hearts. That’s the Voice of Philadelphia, the Voice of Baseball and its many charms.

May we always remember the Voice that narrated our Summers.

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A sad day in Philadelphia – Goodbye, Harry Kalas

It happened in the top of the third. Shane Victorino led off the inning, and CRACK – the ball soared toward deep right-field, destined for the stands. I was waiting for the call.  “This one is well struck…it’s got a chance…watch this ba-by, outtaaaaa heeeeeere. Home run, Shane Victor-ino”

But not today. Not ever again.

Harry Kalas, at the age of 73, has passed away.

In the course of my 24 years, I’ve watched a lot of baseball, almost all of them Phillies games. And for just about every one, it was the golden-tinged pipes of Harry Kalas that would deliver the action.

It is strange, watching this game against the Nationals, to not hear that voice, the voice that accompanied me through hazy summer nights, the voice that would rise and fall with every pitch, hit and catch, the voice that called the action with the expertise and grace of a professional, and the passion and wonderment of a fan.

That was the thing about Harry – it wasn’t just some job, some gig to pay the bills. You always sensed that it was his life, that he absolutely loved every moment of it, and it translated into every call he made. If he was the voice of the Phillies, then he was the heart of the Philadelphia fans.

Over the next few days and weeks and probably even months, we’ll look back on his career here in Philadelphia, fondly retelling stories and recounting our favorite calls. Sometimes in death, the living look back on the deceased with a newfound sense of endearment and respect, the old cliche that you don’t know what you have until it is gone rearing its ugly head at the most tragic of moments.

But with Harry, we always knew what we had.

As voices go – at least for sports announcers – his was the Statue of David, Starry Night, or, seeing as he was announcing in Philadelphia, perhaps “Rhapsody in Blue”. Yes, “Rhapsody in Blue” nails it – steeped in the pillars of classical music, but bravely infusing colorful splashes of jazz and, more importantly, the proper mix of pathos and joy.

That was Harry – he knew the game, was well-versed in its history, but embraced its changing nature and its changing athletes. He was old-school, but he was cool, too, his exclamations of “Chase Utley, you are the MAN” the perfect way of expressing his gratitude toward the gritty and exciting nature with which Utley plays.

His calls always just felt right, always fit, always perfectly mirrored the way you were experiencing the developments he described.

And that voice; how beautiful and immortal those pipes were. They sounded like top-shelf scotch and a long, slowly-drawn cigar. His game was obviously baseball, but he could have announced a spelling bee, and you would have watched with hairs standing on end. You could imagine him standing in the booth and pumping his fist after a strikeout to seal the Phils win, his call of “Struuuck him out, Phillies win,” bringing a smile to your face every time.

I didn’t know the man personally, but I felt like I did. I grew up on that voice.

What more can you say? The hardest part might be that, were this someone else that left us from the Phillies organization, it would have been Harry who would have given us the words we needed to hear, Harry who would have respectfully led us through our sorrow.

Harry, what would you have us say now?

He’d probably smile, and maybe put his hand on our shoulder, and say nothing more then “Play ball,” his eyes glistening with memories of the game he loved.

We’ll try, Harry, but it sure won’t be easy without you.

We’ll miss you, Harry Kalas. You were a legend, a professional, a baseball aficienado, a hell of a talent, and in Philadelphia, even to countless people who never knew you beyond your work in the booth, a friend. You were one of us, and though we mourn now, we will remember you fondly.

My deepest sympathies go out to his family, friends, and all of those he touched.

May you rest in peace, Harry.

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Stairs’ Way to Seven – Phillies beat Rockies, 7-5

On a day when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Phillies rose from the dead themselves, overcoming an early 5-2 deficit on their way to defeating the Rockies, 7-5.

Hallelujah.

Chan Ho Park struggled, allowing five runs in 3 1/3 innings. But no matter, as Chase Utley tied the game in the top of the eighth with a two-run jack, and Stairs sent another to the heavens and over the fence in the ninth, securing a Phillies victory.

And I missed the whole damn thing, enjoying the festivities of the day and watching the Masters. (Editor’s note: A bunny who lays colorful eggs and puts candy in your basket…I mean, really people? REALLY?) Ah well – a long season it is.

So, let’s do a quick recap here – after six games, or one week of this young season, we’ve already encountered worries over quiet bats, worries over horrendous starting pitching, and worries over Cole Hamels’ elbow (which he insists is fine). Continue reading

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A little bit of last year must have been built right into the rings

The ring ceremony is the last remnant of a World Series – it’s the final gesture, the last bit of hardware, the epilogue in a joyous celebration dating back to late October.

Who expected the Braves bullpen to join in the celebration? Continue reading

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Sure, the boos were out early…the real story happened late

Gosh, it sure is exciting to have baseball back again, isn’t it? The World Champs start their…

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

Whoa, wait, what was that? 17 words into my sentimental piece about having the Phillies back for another year, and I already get booed? Sure, it wasn’t the greatest opening to an article, but damn, cut me a little slack – it’s the first post of the baseball season, for cripes sake. Continue reading

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Though Phillies optimism runs rampant, doubt still lurks in the shadows

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

I am inherently fond of polarity. I discover balance by immersing myself in the extremes of any argument or genre, whatever the case may be. The exploration of contradiction in any subject, I find, lends a person an advanced sense of empathy, and facilitates the sort of intellectual antagonism that forges new schools of thought. And I’m fairly certain it explains why I love the Philly sports scene as psychotically as I do.

Because, with optimism at an all-time high for the approaching Phillies season, one question has bullied its way to the forefront of radio shows and newspaper columns.

What should we be worried about? Continue reading

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