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Stan Hochman: Homeless and hurting, author credits late Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas as voice of reason

IF YOU HONK the horn in a battered Volvo hidden in a thicket of weeds behind a Nashville church and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?

Author Craig Daliessio credits Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas with saving his life. (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer)
Author Craig Daliessio credits Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas with saving his life. (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer)Read more

IF YOU HONK the horn in a battered Volvo hidden in a thicket of weeds behind a Nashville church and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?

Craig Daliessio hoped not.

"I broke the cardinal rule of homelessness," Daliessio said. "Never give away a good hiding place."

That was the night Harry Kalas saved his life. Oct. 29, 2008. Daliessio was homeless, jobless, living in that battered Volvo hidden in that thicket of weeds behind that church in Nashville, wary of cops and robbers and whatever else lurks in the night, sleep deprived, groggy from the beating life was handing him.

"And then, on Fox Radio," Daliessio said, "the announcer, maybe it was Joe Buck, said, 'We're going to play you the local feed courtesy of 1210-AM in Philadelphia and the great Harry Kalas as he calls the final out for his beloved Philadelphia Phillies.' "

And there was Harry, in that joyous growl, that blend of pride and passion and too many cigarettes and too many gin-and-tonics, declaring the Philadelphia Phillies the 2008 "worrrrrld champions of baseballllll."

"I pounded on the dashboard," Daliessio recalled. "I beeped the horn. I didn't care who heard it. And then, the tears came.

"It was my hometown team and even though I wasn't home, that was Harry Kalas, my announcer. That was my team. The year before they were the butt end of jokes, 10,000 losses for the franchise. And now, world champions. There was hope. Life could change!"

Daliessio has written a terrific book called "Harry Kalas Saved My Life." WIP's Angelo Cataldi wrote the foreword. It's a book for true fans, for caring players, for the downtrodden, for the luckless, for scorned underdogs, for everyone who liked "Rocky," "Rudy," "Miracle on Ice," "Invincible," the movies Daliessio memorized when he was up to his neck in the quicksand of self-loathing.

"I didn't want to look at myself in a mirror," he said. "I didn't want to walk down the street and see my reflection in a store window."

He's a Philly guy, a big guy, maybe 6-4 and 265. That Volvo has 205,562 miles on the odometer. Halfway to the moon, he says. Used to be emerald green. Color of algae now. Pond scum. The shredded driver's seat looks like it lost a fight with a tiger cub.

Daliessio slept in the passenger seat. "It tilts back," he explained. "It's like a hospital bed. Couldn't turn on my side. Eased the car in, inch at a time, into those weeds, out near Highway 65. Wake up at 2, again at 3. Had the phone alarm set for 5, so I could drive outta there while it was still dark.

"Ate once a day. Never on the weekends. I wouldn't eat the jail food."

Jail food? There'd been a bitter divorce (are there any other kind?), and when he lost his job with the mortgage company, and they foreclosed on his house and they repossessed his car, his ex-wife had him slapped in jail on weekends when he couldn't make child-support payments.

"I'd turn myself in at 6 on Fridays and get out at 11:59 on Sundays," he said bitterly. "That added up to 54 hours, but I only got credit for 48. They warned me not to complain or this judge would stiffen the sentence. She handled 90 percent of the divorce cases in that county and she was working on her fifth husband.

"I was seeing stars, I'd been punched on the chin."

It's an axiom in boxing. The punches that hurt the most are the ones you don't see coming. "I was not some Wall Street guy bundling worthless mortgages," he said. "I was a glorified loan officer. Hated every minute of it. I didn't see it [the bleak recession] coming.

"And then it was all gone. Had to give away the pets, a cat and two springer spaniels. Had to give up the vegetable garden I'd planted with my daughter.

"I was not going to abandon my daughter. I was not going to fill the tank and head back to Philly and take that job with Uncle Franny in Crum Lynne. I was a good dad, and that gave me hope."

So he stayed put in Nashville. Lived in that battered Volvo for 5 months. Stopped asking for shelter from friends. "The first thing they want to know was how long I'd be sleeping on their couch," he sighed. "Charity was not open-ended."

He'd done a mortgage for a woman he calls Mary. No fee. Her sister gave him the Volvo. A friend wired $150 and he headed for the pawn shop with his daughter, Morgan, to retrieve his Takamine guitar.

A destitute couple with a young son followed them into the hock shop. They pawned her engagement ring for $15. Daliessio wondered gas, milk, bread, baby food? He approached the couple and gave them $20, told them they were not alone, drove off.

"There is always someone else worse off than you," Daliessio said. "I couldn't always give someone money, but I could drive a homeless guy across town where a friend had a place for him to live. And sometimes, it's just a hand on someone else's shoulder, telling them you've been there, too."

Doing random acts of kindness, that's one of Daliessio's keys to scuffling off life's canvas. Cherishing true friends. Having faith, that's another. Tug McGraw, and his you-gotta-believe mantra, one of his heroes.

Got a job 2 weeks after that epiphany, hearing Harry describe the final out. Has an improved visitation arrangement with his daughter, who is 12 now. Has a blog, Sometimesdaddiescry, that has become a lifeline for divorced dads.

Coaches youth hockey. Has gone back to college. Will soon have a degree. Plans to teach and continue writing. It is an inspirational story and it will make a poignant movie, despite Daliessio's doubts.

"Who plays me," he asks wryly. "Shrek?"

Maybe Kevin Costner. Anyway, the background music is set. Guy with a raspy baritone belting out, "High hopes, high apple-pie-in-the-sky hopes." You know the guy. Saved Craig Daliessio's life.

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