One of the most recognizable voices in all of sports got its start goofing off in the back of a Naperville high school classroom.
"Seriously, he'd sit in the back of the class and announce baseball games to himself," said former classmate Gib Drendel. "He had an astonishing voice, though."
That voice belonged to Harry Kalas, who died Monday at 73 shortly after being discovered unconscious in the broadcasting booth before a game in Washington, D.C., Monday afternoon.
Kalas was the Baseball Hall of Fame play-by-play broadcaster for the Philadelphia Phillies, but he also was widely recognized as the narrator of NFL Films programs, Campbell's Chunky Soup advertisements and, most recently, as the moderator of Animal Planet's Super Bowl Sunday counterprogramming Puppy Bowls. Visitors to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and U.S. Mint in Philadelphia will also recognize his voice.
"He loved all sports, but particularly baseball," Drendel said.
For Kalas, a trip to a White Sox game against the Washington Senators, delayed by rain, proved fateful.
"He and his dad happened to get invited into the dugout to talk with (Senators first baseman) Mickey Vernon, and ever since then he wanted to go into broadcasting," said fellow classmate Wally Baumgartner. "That was the clincher."
The girl who would become Drendel's wife, Carol, went on a date with Kalas when they were in high school. Because he was the preacher's kid, Carol's parents told her to watch out for him because "they're the worst."
"He had a date with her at a drive-in movie theater, and she said all he did was spend the night announcing baseball games and he didn't pay any attention to her," Drendel said.
Kalas left Naperville after graduating from Naperville Community High School in 1954 to attend the University of Iowa. He was drafted the day he graduated and spent two years in the Army serving in Hawaii.
He followed his military hitch with a three-year stint calling Hawaii Islanders minor league baseball games where he caught the ear of Houston Astros management, which made him the original voice of that organization in 1965. In 1971, he landed in Philadelphia.
Kalas joined the team the year the club moved into its now-former home, Veterans Stadium, replacing fan favorite Bill Campbell. He wasn't immediately embraced by Phillies fans, despite being paired with beloved Hall of Fame player Richie Ashburn. But Kalas evolved into a beloved sports figure in his new city where he became known for his signature "Outta here!" home run calls.
"Deep, unique ... almost like an opera singer," Chicago Cubs broadcaster Pat Hughes said of Kalas. "But it was all natural. He said he took some voice classes in high school and college. He really cultivated that and worked at it. He spoke so clearly.
"The Mike Schmidt 500th home run call is a classic. His work on the 2008 World Series was beautiful. The clarity of the voice is what struck me as well as the actual tone."
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said, "Baseball has lost one of the great voices of our generation."
Kalas was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002, an honor he told friends was the "thrill of his life."
Kalas is survived by three sons: Todd, Brad and Kane.
"I bet," Drendel said, "he'd have rather passed at a baseball stadium than anyplace else."
• Daily Herald staff writers Melissa Jenco and Mike Spellman and news services contributed to this report.