The First Home Run Ball and Harry Kalas
After my screed about how D.C. folks don't want or need to be taunted any more about the visiting elements in their ballparks, I planned on ignoring Phillies fans today. Then the Harry Kalas thing happened, which made the devil horns recede a bit, especially when they write tributes like this. And then Shane Victorino popped a third-inning home run into the right field seats, and the MASN cameras zoomed in on Michael Bonagura, clad in Phillies jersey and Phillies hat, clutching the first Nats Park home-run ball of the season with his arms raised to the sky.
"I'm a celebrity right now, dude," Michael said, by the time I found him in the seventh inning. "Everyone's texting and calling me. I caught a home run ball the day Harry died. I don't have time for you."
Indeed, his phone was blowing up the entire time we chatted. Being a grown man, Michael had always planned to give away any baseball or hockey souvenirs that dropped into his lap. You know, to some wide-eyed kid sitting nearby. When Victorino's shot bounced off another hand and then landed in Michael's, he even debated looking for a kid and forking over the ball. A Nats fan sitting in front of him confirmed that detail.
"He's actually a decent baseball fan, even if he is a Phillies fan," that Nats fan, Roberta Gentile, told me.
But then Michael got to thinking. It sounds weird, but he started thinking about Harry Kalas.
"He was part of my formative years of baseball," explained Michael, who came down from Blackwood, N.J. for the opener. "And I never thought there would be baseball without him, man. I never thought it."
"Mention Harry Kalas in there a lot," Matt Ingram, one of Michael's friends, requested. "He's a big hero of ours."
"Harry Kalas is the voice of baseball, he is the voice of modern-day sports," Matt's brother Andrew said. "NFL Films won't be the same, baseball won't be the same. We saw the fire trucks and the ambulances and not once did we ever think it would be Harry. The Phillies came in and beat the piss out of Washington for him today."
"That's what the Phillies are playing for right now, is for his memory," Matt said.
"That's what it's about," Michael agreed. "That's why it's important to me. It's about Harry."
So he decided to keep the ball. He bought a beer for the Nats fan off whose hands the home run ball initially bounced. He estimated he had gotten 97 calls and texts by the seven-inning stretch, all about his moment of fame.
"I haven't watched any of the game since that happened," he said. "It's actually annoying me. I can't believe my friends don't have jobs. How did this many people know that I caught that ball?"
While I was sitting in the outfield, listening to the Nats fans rib Michael and his friends, the Phillies hit two more home runs. The Philly guys, and their closest friends scattered throughout the outfield, stood up and clapped, pointing at each other. They had nothing but praise for Nats Park and for Nats fans, who, oddly, returned the favor.
"They're actually not bad -- for Phillies fans," one said as I was leaving.
Maybe their broadcaster had inspired them for the afternoon. Michael and his friends talked about their hopes of another World Series win, and they talked, again and again, about Harry Kalas.
"I never thought I'd be interested in a home run ball except for the fact that Harry Kalas died today," Michael said. "It's all about Harry, man. It was a good day to catch a ball."
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