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Heaven gains three players

April 20, 2009

by Matt Kane

There is a theory that death come in threes, and, in less than a week’s time, there was nothing to disprove that theory in the baseball world.

First, Angels’ rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart was killed just after midnight Thursday, April 2, after pitching six shutout innings and picking up the win for the Angels. Then, Monday, at the start of the season’s second week, the baseball world lost two iconic and legendary, for different reasons, personalities — former pitcher Mark “the Bird” Fidrych and Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas.

It’s kind of funny how three people I have never met or seen or heard perform their duty can affect me. I didn’t break down and cry when I heard about the death of any of the three, but each one was taken like a stiff uppercut to the gut.

Each one caught me off guard, and then took a little wind out of me.

I guess when I said I have never heard Kalas perform his duty, I’m not exactly accurate. I think every red-blooded American sports fan who has ever turned on ESPN Classic or the NFL Network knows who Harry Kalas was, even if they didn’t realize it. In 1975, Kalas joined NFL Films, and for the better part of the last 30 years, it was Kalas’ deep, slow, narrating voice that synchronized perfectly with the super slow-motion highlights of past regular season and Super Bowl games.

My point earlier about never having heard Kalas meant that I never actually sat next to a radio and listened to Kalas describe a Phillies’ game as I nodded off to sleep. On more than a few occasions, Herb Carneal read me a Twins bedtime story over the radio waves, so I can only imagine Kalas did the same for those in the Philadelphia area.

As for Fidrych, I was in the womb for a month when he started dazzling, baffling, and scaring hitters with his odd and almost psychotic behaviors on the mound during his rookie of the year campaign in 1976. Statistically — Fidrych went 19-9 with a league-leading 2.34 ERA and 24 complete games — 1976 was, by far his most productive season. He won just 10 more games and lasted only four more seasons in the big leagues. For a pitcher who pitched just five years in the major leagues and compiled a 29-19 record to be remembered, Fidrych must have been quite a character.

Just when baseball fans are excited at the prospects of what the new baseball season would bring, we were all brought back down to earth by the deaths of Adenhart, Fidrych and Kalas.

Undoubtedly, the season will go on, and fans will again cheer for their favorite teams and players in hopes they will raise the World Series trophy in early November. But in all that celebrating fans and players will do this season, there is one thing the game of baseball has taught all of us. None of its players and personalities are ever forgotten.

Baseball is considered a game of numbers and statistics. Before the evil Internet showed up, the box scores in the newspaper were often the first things people looked for when they plucked their newspapers off the front step or newsstand. Attached to every number in every box score, there is a name. Names like Adenhart and Fidrych, and all the ballplayers who have come and gone before them.

Kalas’ name never appeared in a baseball box score, but his voice is permanently engraved in the ears of sports fans around the world.

They say heaven is paradise, so there is no doubt baseball is not only America’s Game, but heaven’s game. The rosters up there got a little better last week. And there is a new voice announcing the lineups. A voice that would make the hair on God’s neck stand up.