"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to beautiful Bright House Field ..."
Hall of Fame broadcaster and fan favorite Harry Kalas died on April 13, 2009, in the broadcast booth at Nationals Park, but his presence remains strong in Spring Training. Kalas recorded a ballpark greeting when Bright House Field opened in 2004, and it has played before every game since.
"I heard it, and I was trying to remember if that's what he really sounded like," Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "It didn't sound as deep to me. It wasn't the nice, smooth, sultry, deep, velvety voice."
But it was Kalas.
Philies broadcasters Tom McCarthy and Scott Franzke, who have handled the play-by-play duties on TV and radio since Kalas' death, recalled how Kalas made a special effort to travel to Clearwater last spring despite recovering from surgery.
Kalas could have stayed in Philadelphia to recuperate, but he wouldn't let that happen.
He needed to be in Clearwater.
"This place was as important to him as the season as a whole," McCarthy said.
"He could have just waited for the season opener, but he really wanted to come down here," Franzke said. "He really wanted to be here."
Every spring, the broadcasters and a player or two meet with some season-ticket holders in Clearwater. McCarthy and Franzke recalled how emotional Kalas got when he talked to the fans during those final sessions.
"He talked about the '80 World Series and how the fans got him on the air in '83," McCarthy said. "You could see tears in eyes when he would talk about the fans last year. His eyes welled up. You could see how important being here was. I think it was even more important for him last year."
Kalas loved Spring Training because of baseball, but also because it meant he could see his son Todd, who is a broadcaster for the Tampa Bay Rays. The two would often spend an evening at Derby Lane, a dog track in St. Petersburg. But Kalas obviously spent time at the ballpark, writing down the lineup, talking to players, coaches and manager Charlie Manuel.
"He would ask me about some of the new players, ask me for the lineup," Manuel said. "But you know what I miss most about him? The way he dressed. I used to kid him on the way he dressed all the time. I'd ask him about his clothes. I'd say, 'Harry, your colors don't match today,' and he'd laugh and giggle."
It has been almost a year since Kalas died.
Hard to believe.
"I still think from a fan's standpoint, it's hard," McCarthy said.
"It's the first game of the spring," Franzke said.
"And he should be opening the telecast," McCarthy added.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less