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Phillies fans pay tribute to Kalas

Phillies fans pay tribute to Kalas

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PHILADELPHIA -- They came in vans, buses, trucks and cars. They came on foot from nearby homes.

They came in baby carriages and on crutches. They came from as far as Syracuse, N.Y., and Williamsport, Pa.

They came for one reason: To say goodbye to the voice they all remember so vividly.

For legendary Phillies announcer Harry Kalas, who died Monday at the age of 73, these fans would do anything. And they did.

Beginning at 8 a.m., thousands of fans had the opportunity to pay their respects on the field at Citizens Bank Park as they passed Kalas' casket, which was located behind home plate. A steady stream of fans continued to stop at the casket shortly before the on-field tribute began at 1:30 p.m. Some took pictures of Kalas' photos, which were located adjacent to the casket. Some kissed the casket.

Harry Kalas, 1936-2009

"There was no way I was missing this," said Jonathan Jackson of North Philadelphia. "I grew up listening to Harry. Whether I was at home with my family and hanging out with friends at the Jersey Shore, Harry's voice was always with us. I'm 33. I go all the way back with Harry. In fact, one time I was waiting in line at Wawa and Harry was in line, maybe five or six people behind. I asked if he could sign an autograph for me and he bought my coffee and even added a bagel. He was such a great man, the absolute best."

Some fans began waiting outside the ballpark long before the sun filled the spring sky on Saturday morning.

Joan Robinson was raised in South Jersey but moved to the Syracuse area when she was 10. Even from that young age, she recalled listening to Phillies games on the radio with her family.

About five hours away in upstate New York, the voice was still there. On many nights, Robinson could still hear Kalas' booming voice on the radio.

"I listened to 1210 (radio) as much as I could," said Robinson, who woke up at 1 a.m. and drove to Philadelphia to say goodbye to Kalas. "I never met Harry, but I feel as if I've known him my whole life. When I heard the news on Monday, I was so heartbroken. I felt as if I lost a member of my family. I'm still a huge Phillies fan and always be thanks to Harry."

Williamsport is the home of the Little League World Series. It's also the home of Rob Estingson.

Like Robinson, this 29-year-old Phillies fan set his alarm clock for 1:30 a.m. to make sure he arrived in time for the tribute.

"I met Harry once in Williamsport and he was so gracious," Estingson recalled. "I don't think I've ever come across a nicer human being. You know when someone is genuine. He was genuine. He was so real. He made you feel like you could talk to him about anything. There aren't many people like that on this Earth. He was a special man. I just felt like I owed it to myself to come to Philadelphia and say goodbye just from that one experience I shared with Harry."

The fans roared in appreciation every time Kalas' call proclaiming the Phillies as the 2008 World Champions flashed on PhanaVision.

This was a perfect way to say goodbye and revel in all the incredible good times that Kalas provided for the fans in this area and beyond.

"I cried for two days after Harry passed away," said Joseph Smithton of Scranton. "I have been a lifelong Phillies fan. I couldn't believe it and still can't. After two days of tears, I've been remembering all the good times and all the great calls Harry made. Really, Harry had a voice that you could count on every day. He was in your living room and he was so positive. I came in contact with Harry a few times and he was so unassuming. It was almost hard to believe he was a high-profile announcer. He never viewed himself that way."

But his adoring fans sure did.

That's why they came in droves to make one last stop at the casket.

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, Phillies President David Montgomery, pitcher Jamie Moyer and former star Mike Schmidt were among those who spoke so eloquently about their departed friend.

Kalas always put the fans first. He was one of them despite going to the broadcast booth every night.

"We love you Harry!," one fan bellowed.

Amen.

Andy Jasner is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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