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He's no Harry, but Todd Kalas finds his voice calling Houston Astros games

He would seem like a natural heir to his famous father, but Todd Kalas didn't get that chance.

Astros play-by-play announcer Todd Kalas (right) with color analyist Geoff Blum.
Astros play-by-play announcer Todd Kalas (right) with color analyist Geoff Blum.Read moreHouston Chronicle

When he arrives at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night for the opener of a series between baseball's yin and yang — the Astros and Phillies — Todd Kalas will bypass the home team's TV booth, the one that bears his father's name.

Destiny always seemed to be pushing him toward the Harry Kalas Broadcast Booth. His surname was iconic here. His local roots ran deep. His husky, honeyed voice often echoed his beloved father's.

But Todd Kalas is 51 now and that fairy tale never came true.

On Monday night, Kalas, midway through his rookie season as a full-time play-by-play voice, instead will enter the adjacent visitors TV booth. There he'll call another game for the Astros, the team that in 1965 gave his father a big-league job.

His timing has been good. The 2017 Astros have baseball's second-best record (63-32) and the ratings for the telecasts he now anchors have jumped 13 percent from a year ago.

"Things work out for a reason," Kalas said in a Cleveland hotel lobby during Houston's visit there earlier this season. "I think this is the way my career path is supposed to go. A couple of people tweeted me and said, 'You're just following your dad's footsteps. In a couple of years, you'll show up in Philadelphia, too.' "

That sentiment and the questions it raises figure to be expressed often this week as the Astros and their new play-by-play man make their only 2017 visit to a city that pines for the baseball success Harry Kalas' tobacco-tinted voice chronicled in his final years.

Many want to know why, despite his obvious pedigree and the almost-constant reshuffling of the Phillies' broadcast team since Harry Kalas' 2009 death, the son of this city's most popular broadcaster hasn't followed in his father's white-loafered footsteps.

"It's a question I think about a lot," Kalas said. "Everybody asks me why I'm not back in Philly. It could have worked, I guess. But I always would have been Harry Jr. Besides, I think the Phillies are very happy with what they have."

Before Kalas' unexpected death from heart disease, the Phils had hired Tom McCarthy as his heir apparent. And, as bad as he once wanted a play-by-play gig somewhere, Todd Kalas thought Philadelphia might not be the right place.

"A part of me loved being a Philadelphian for all those years. But I also wanted to carve out my own niche. I just always wanted to do my own thing and find a team where I could attach myself in the same way Dad did with the Phillies."

Kalas had chances to do that during nearly two decades as a crowd reporter, pre- and postgame host, and fill-in play-by-play man on Tampa Bay Rays telecasts. He preferred not to reveal those teams, and the Phillies didn't respond to an emailed question about whether they ever seriously considered him.

So, until a year ago, it looked as if Tampa was where Kalas' career — and play-by-dream — might end.

"I was OK with that because I was so happy there, with the weather, the lifestyle," Kalas said. "I was doing play-by-play — even though it was only 10-15 games. I was working for an organization I'd been with for 19 years and was very comfortable with."

Chris Wheeler, the former Phillies broadcaster who worked with the younger Kalas on early-1990s Prism telecasts, suggested it took an ideal situation to pry him from Florida.

"I always thought Todd would be a No. 1 guy with a major-league team," Wheeler said. "He did have a shot at a few jobs that went to other guys. But he's very laid-back and I got the feeling that if something didn't happen, he was more than content to live and work in the Tampa Bay area and enjoy his life."

Engaged to be married, Kalas as recently as a year ago was ready to set aside his broadcasting ambition. Instead, when he decided to pursue the Houston opening, it was his wedding plans that were set aside. (He lives with his fiancée in Houston and plans to marry this offseason.)

There are 30 big-league teams and 30 lead TV voices. Vacancies don't arise often. Harry Kalas, for example, was with the Phillies 39 years. Vin Scully spent 67 with the Dodgers. When openings do arise, in-house replacements frequently are in the wings.

But last summer, on an Astros visit to Tampa, veteran Houston broadcaster Bill Brown let Kalas know he was going to retire after the season. There was no obvious replacement.

Born in Houston in the first year of his father's tenure as an Astros announcer (1965-70), Kalas decided to go for it since, at 50, "it was probably my last shot."

"My first baseball game was in Houston," he said. "I have recollections of going to the Astrodome as a toddler, seeing the exploding scoreboard. Certainly not the kind of memories I had about Philadelphia, but there was a cool connection.

"The few other times I was in the process for a TV or radio job, I'd never gotten to the point where I felt it was definitively the right move. This was the first time I knew it was right. There was clarity in my decision."

According to Reid Ryan, the Astros' president for business operations, Kalas was one of 70 applicants, and one of six to earn an audition. His hiring, Ryan said, was unrelated to his name.

"Todd had a reputation for being a quality broadcaster," Ryan said. "That's what got him the job."

The interview process was painstakingly thorough. He had to write down his broadcasting philosophy and expound on several baseball issues. The Astros studied tapes of his Rays work. He did a mock broadcast with new color analyst Geoff Blum. And every person he'd cited as a reference was contacted.

"There was no stone left unturned," Kalas said. "They felt it was a pretty important decision."

At spring training, some of the first questions he got were about a home-run call and whether he'd adopt his father's famous "Outta here!"

"I was like, '100 percent, no,' " Kalas said. "That's Dad's call. But some people in Houston remembered the call Dad used there and wondered if I'd use it. I originally said no, but then I looked at the preseason schedule and saw we were doing a game on Dad's 81st birthday, March 26."

In the third inning of that game against the Nationals at Palm Beach, Houston's Jake Marisnick drove a ball deep to left.

"Jake Marisnick sends one deep," Kalas began, priming for his homer homage, "and that ball is in Astro orbit!"

He reprised his father's call when Marwin Gonzalez homered a few innings later, then stored it away forever.

His first Houston season hasn't been all positives. In May, his mother, Jasmine, died in Hawaii. Kalas took a few games off, then returned to the telecasts, where, viewers say, he's developed a soothing, low-key style.

"This is a completely different era than when Dad began," he said. "What I do on TV is pretty much capturing pictures and trying to allow the color analyst to shine. The color analyst is the star."

He is a more relaxed and comfortable broadcaster than when, not long after graduating from Syracuse, the Mets hired him for their pre- and postgame shows."At 25, I was the youngest broadcaster ever to work with the Mets or Yankees and it showed," he said. "I needed seasoning. There was an intimidation factor. I was coming on right after 'Mike and the Mad Dog,' the most popular talk show in radio history. I was working with Hall of Famer Bob Murphy and the ultra-talented Gary Cohen. Part of me felt I deserved to be there, but there was another part that didn't."

After two seasons, he returned to Philadelphia and worked out the kinks during the 40-45 Prism games he did annually. Then came Tampa Bay and a halt to his climb.

"I still thought about doing play-by-play full-time, but the older I got, the more comfortable I got in my skin, the more I said, 'You know, I hope it works out. But if it doesn't, I'm good.' "

It worked out in Houston and not Philadelphia, but when he enters Citizens Bank Park's press level, he'll be reminded of more than what might have been.

In a tiny radio booth there, he worked an inning with his father during the 2008 World Series, a moment each man called his career highlight.

"That was something you could only dream about," he said.

It was in that booth, in the chaos following Game 5, that Todd Kalas left a handwritten note for his father.

"I wanted to let him know how happy I was that he finally got to make that call [that the Phillies were world champions]. He didn't get that opportunity in '80," Kalas said, referring to a since-changed rule that prevented local broadcasts of the World Series. "There would have been a void if he hadn't gotten to do that. I wrote the note to tell him how happy and proud I was that he finally got that chance."

It's something Harry Kalas, if he were alive in this summer of 2017, could say about his son.