The voices carried me home. Dating back to high school, on most weekends in the summer I’d drive to the Jersey Shore and relax with friends and family who owned or rented houses there (see: mooching). Seaside Heights, Ocean City, Sea Isle, Avalon, Wildwood — I’ve slept on porches and tight couches and in sheets decorated with conch shells. Sundays meant the dreaded trip home, and the worst stretch was usually where the Garden State Parkway meets the Atlantic City Expressway. Traffic crawled. The air conditioner in my black 1994 Chevy Cavalier was broken. It’s a safe bet I was dehydrated, from the sun or booze or both.
Far more important to me than a cool blast of air was my radio. Music was the soundtrack for the ride to the Shore; Sundays were for the Phillies, and for Harry. As the heat and my stress level rose, Harry Kalas turned my sweatbox-on-wheels into a Buddhist monastery where baseball was peace and Harry the K’s play-by-play was a Zen koan. You can still hear his voice, like that of a grandfather or dad who told stories that held you rapt, or a friend who could talk sports for hours: “Struck’im ouuuuut!” During that long drought between 1993 and 2007, when the Fightins mostly stunk like a Vet Stadium bathroom, you tuned in not just for baseball, but for a version of the game as described by Harry. It was often better than what you’d see with your own eyes.
By contrast, a lousy broadcaster can ruin the experience. Like former Sixers color man Eric Snow, who was so dull he once apparently put himself to sleep. On the air. Or the current Phillies television crew, who should begin each inning with a narcolepsy warning. (Google “Matt Stairs Wing Bowl” for proof of a far more entertaining guy than you’ve heard so far. Jamie Moyer? I think he may have a future on NPR.)
With the window now officially closed on the Phillies’ ’08 championship era, and with no basketball, hockey or meaningful football till the fall, it feels like we’re all stuck in a hot car on the Philadelphia sports highway — going nowhere and not happy about it. Which makes this the perfect time to recognize the local TV and radio play-by-play men and color analysts who’ve made our best sports memories better and helped us survive the lean years. To rank them, I’ve looked at three categories: voice (smooth delivery, unmistakable sound), calls (moments that will live in Philly sports history), and general awesomeness (would you want to have a beer or play a round of golf with this guy?).
What makes a broadcaster special is more than the ability to interpret the infield fly rule or describe the action; it’s the weird, deeply personal one-sided relationships that fans develop with him over time. These broadcasters will likely never know you, but they’re part of your family for the big game and your co-pilot on long drives home.
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CBS Philly reports: “Sunday marks the 5th anniversary of the death of former Phillies announcer Harry Kalas. A steady stream of fans visited the Harry Kalas statue on the concourse beyond the left field foul pole at Citizens Bank Park to take pictures of their favorite play-by-play guy.”
Sculptor Larry Nowlan, perhaps best known around these parts for his Harry Kalas statue at Citizen’s Bank Park and the uncompleted Joe Frazier statue, passed away in his New Hampshire home last week. He was 48.
Nowlan, a graduate of Millersville University, started his career as a designer and art director at an ad agency in town, but found the work miserable. Luckily, inspiration struck at the viewing of the Auguste Rodin museum, with Nowlan finding the perfect call against the abstraction that plagued his advertising career. An instructor at a sculpture night class at the Academy of Fine Arts pushed Nowlan to attend art school, which he pursued at the New York Academy of Art before moving to New Hampshire in 1995.
The long-awaited Joe Frazier statue, which Nowlan started work on back in April, for now, appears to be at a stand still. Which, of course, begs the larger question: Who will sculpt Philadelphia’s idols now? [Valley News]
Foobooz’s Arthur Etchells fails terribly at riding the bull last night at Percy Street Barbecue. [Messy & Picky]
Living on the Vedge gets an early taste of Fare on Fairmount. [Living on the Vedge]
Two Eat Philly and Row Home Eats check out Guapos Tacos during Baltimore Avenue’s Dollar Stroll last Thursday. Both enjoy the tacos but they still have other food truck favorites. Row Home Eats continues down the Avenue picking up bites along the way. [Two Eat Philly | Row Home Easts]
Bridges, Burgers and Beer checks out the soup dumplings offered at Sakura Mandarin. How do they compare to his time in Shanghai? [Bridges, Burgers and Beer]
The plusses way out pace the minuses in Midtown Lunch’s take on Sansom Kabob House. [Midtown Lunch]
Two Eat Philly also eat their way through the unlimited brunch at Cuba Libre. [Two Eat Philly]
Philly Sports History is doing beer related posts all week in honor of Philly Beer Week. Did you know beer is the reason Harry Kalas came to town? [Philly Sports History]