Mining High Hopes from the Baseball Diamond: A Homeless Victim of the Recession Recounts How the Words of Philadelphia Phillies Broadcaster Harry Kalas Saved His Life

By Daliessio, Craig | USA TODAY, July 2010 | Go to article overview

Mining High Hopes from the Baseball Diamond: A Homeless Victim of the Recession Recounts How the Words of Philadelphia Phillies Broadcaster Harry Kalas Saved His Life


Daliessio, Craig, USA TODAY


BEING BORN IN Philadelphia and growing up in nearby Wilmington, Del., meant one thing: "You loved the Phillies if you loved baseball, and I did. I rived, breathed, ate, drank, and slept it. All my childhood dreams revolved around playing baseball or fantasizing about being a big-leaguer. Yet, it was not until Oct. 29, 2008, that I came to realize how much the game meant to me.

I had married in 1997 and, later that year, my wife and I moved to Nashville, Tenn., where I went to work in the mortgage industry. It was not my dream job; it was just a paycheck. By October 2008, I had been divorced for eight years. I had a 10-year-old daughter. I had lost my home, my career, and even our family pets when my industry collapsed. I was broken and devastated and only my love for my daughter kept me in Nashville. I was as far from the life I had dreamed of as I could be. By mid October of 2008, I had been physically homeless for a while, riving in a friend's spare room for two months and then finally in my car. I was starting to see how spiritually homeless I was. Things were really bad. Times were tough. My heart was broken and all of my dreams were leaking out. Then I heard The Voice.

From earliest childhood, baseball was the cornerstone of my world. I played all summer and thought about it all winter. I started Little League when I was seven and, because of a late birthday, played until I was 19. Thirteen seasons, 10 of which were spent behind the plate as a catcher, marked the years from boy to man. The constants in the game for me were my beloved Fightin' Phillies and playing Little League ball.

I fell in love with baseball because my grandfather loved the game. When I was four, I saved a bag full of pennies and my morn took me to Woolco, the local department store, and I bought my first glove. It cost $4.95 and was a cheap little thing--but I thought it was a trophy. I had a little sawdust-filled ball that I threw up in the air and caught for hours on end.

The night before I signed up for Little League for the first time I did not sleep a wink. It was tougher than Christmas Eve. I did all the things boys my age did: I learned how to blouse my pants legs so my cuff looked professional. I stretched the stirrups of my socks on my bedpost until I could pull them up to my calf. When that failed to give me the length I wanted, I found some elastic and cut the stirrup and sewed in the elastic. These were the days when the length of your stirrup was directly proportional to your "cool." I oiled my glove and slept with it under my pillow with a baseball tied in it with shoestring.

I collected baseball cards and chewed the stale gum. The "good" players stayed in a pack, organized by teams, held together by a half-dozen rubber bands, and stored in my Buster Brown shoe box. (Back then, baseball cards were not treated like currency by being kept in protective sleeves.) The "bad" players wound up clothes-pinned to the spokes of my "Spider Bike" to make it sound like a Harley. I knew names like Mickey Lolich, Tom Seaver, Mike Cuellar, Carlton Fisk, Boog Powell, Hank Aaron, and Harmon Killebrew. The very first autograph I ever got was Don Money of the Phillies.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Throughout the good times and the bad with my Phillies, there was one constant--the voice of Harry Kalas, who was a god in Philadelphia. He began his career with the Phils in 1971, coming over from the Houston Astros, and he and Richie Ashburn pretty much were the only voices I ever heard calling a Phillies game. Kalas was a throwback to the days when announcers were announcers; when guys like him were blessed with a leathery set of pipes that made your chest thump when they spoke.

Kalas exuded joy everywhere he went and in everything he did. He was famous around Philly for getting up in a swank restaurant and joining the band onstage for a rendition of "High Hopes." He would not just get up and sing the song while people smiled with slightly uncomfortable tolerance; he had them singing along with him. …

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