Our TBOH Philadelphia Phillies site always starts new writers out with a “My First Team” piece – welcome Mike Azzalina to our team.
I was born in 1987, so you might think that my first year as a Phillies fan would have come when I was six years old, and Joe Carter’s home run shattered my very first World Series dream, as well as any chance of me going to kindergarten the next day. If you thought that, you would be wrong.
For me, it was not which Pokemon card I was going to get, but whether or not I would get the only card missing from my 1992 collection: Ruben Amaro Jr. Ironic, isn’t it?
It was 1992 when I fell in love with the Philadelphia Phillies. While there were not many incredible moments or top-tier players, there were two men who helped to form my love of the red pinstripes.
There was one player in particular who really pulled me in: John Kruk. I was enamored with the cartoon-like figure. The beer belly, outlandish mullet, and disheveled uniform were hilarious to me.
As time went on, I appreciated ‘The Krukker’ for so much more, but they were the best reasons that I had as a five-year old who wore a bright green Philly Phanatic hat everywhere he went.
After a game we attended at the Vet, my father took my older brother and I to our favorite autograph spot. My dad always told us that if a player did not want to sign, we needed to be respectful and thank them anyway.
My first time seeing Kruk did not go as directed. My dad tells everyone that Kruk walked by, and before I could be consoled, I had disappeared. Turns out that I had indeed “disappeared” – to Kruk’s car, where the Phillies’ 1st baseman waited with me, and signed my baseball.
I remember tons of baseball aspects from that 1992 summer. We had to watch the Phils’ games scrambled on TV, because our family did not receive the Prism cable network. Instead of destroying our eyes, most times we would throw a ball around in the backyard and listen to Harry Kalas call the beautiful game.
I think as much as anything else, it was ‘Harry the K’ who sealed the deal for me. I know, I know. A writer should refer to previously mentioned subjects by their last name. Come on though. We are Phillies fans, after all. Harry could never be “Kalas” because he is more than that. He was family every summer night from that very first season.
It was his voice in 1992 that made the losing bearable. It was his voice that made those 70 wins more special. Harry’s voice made every play sound like complete perfection for seventeen years.
“All that mattered to that childhood me was one man’s mullet and another’s unforgettable voice.”
Harry’s voice described for me the first pitching ace who I ever witnessed. Curt Schilling was acquired in a trade for that ’92 season, and he would be the only real ace I would see until the mid to late-2000’s when the Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt group came along.
I may not have understood what it meant exactly, but looking back on it recalls special feelings. Harry’s obvious love for Schill came through with every “swiiing and a miss, he struck heem out” that he was able to call.
Harry’s interpretations of “Mitchy Poo’s” way-too-close-for-comfort saves were things of beauty. Is there anyone out there who did not put on a glove and emulate the delivery of Mitch Williams?
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Playing pitcher-catcher in my basement with a Nerf baseball when it became too dark to be outside, I would turn into a right-handed version of ‘The Wild Thing’ and throw the ball an electric 7 MPH without it even reaching my brother, who stood only ten feet away. Hey, I was five years old, people. Mitch’s 29 saves that season were probably all memorable for the wrong reasons, with all the tightrope walking, but we loved him anyway.
Every once in a while, life presents a moment when I can tap my chest the way Darren Daulton used to on his way to the mound for a final out hug. Harry would describe the swing of ‘Dutch’, the flight of the ball through the warm South Philly air, and the ball landing into the empty stands in right field at Veteran’s Stadium as if it were the playoff homerun for which we all yearned.
Harry’s affection for center fielder Lenny Dykstra, who he called “The Dude”, was obvious in his voice during every stolen base and diving catch. Dykstra, Daulton, Schilling, Morandini, Williams, Kruk, Kalas. This was where my love of the Phillies began, a year before they all won a National League pennant.
While the 1992 team did not have many memorable moments or remarkable statistical seasons from its players, they are the group that began my childhood love for baseball and the Phillies. They created my first memories, instilled my unwillingness to waver on which would be my favorite team, and did it all while losing 92 games.
And who cares about wins and losses when you are only five years old? All that mattered to that childhood me was one man’s mullet and another’s unforgettable voice.