December heart attack sidelined voice of the Griffins

Grand Rapids Griffins

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Bob Kaser has been calling pro hockey games for the past 40 years.

“Very first broadcast was here in Grand Rapids,” Kaser said. “At the old Stadium Arena against the Owls (for the) Flint Generals.”

It was Oct. 12, 1979: Day 1 of a career that began as a fan sitting in the stands with a tape recorder.

“I played hockey, you know, loved the game, loved going to the Generals games and me and a buddy, just for kicks, started broadcasting into a tape recorder,” Kaser said, smiling.

When the Generals suddenly had an opening, Kaser made his play.

“I gave them this cassette tape and they thought enough of me to bring me on board,” he recalled.

After stops in Flint and Saginaw, Kaser would go from Erie, Pennsylvania, in the Eastern League to Seattle, Washington, in the Western League.

“I went to Seattle for five years, worked with Barry Melrose for a year while I was there,” Kaser said. “Then back to Flint, the last year in the IHL for Flint in ’89-’90, and then to Kansas City in 1990.”

He stayed in Kansas City for a decade before moving within the DeVos ownership group to Grand Rapids in 2000.

“I’m a Michigander,” Kaser said. “And as much as I love Kansas City, going home and working for working for what I consider the best minor league franchise in all of sports, it’s a pretty good combination.”

This year marks his 20th season in Grand Rapids, where he has called two Calder Cup championships.

Over those 40 career seasons, Kaser had missed fewer than 10 games due to illness. But in December, he was suddenly and noticeably missing from the Griffins radio broadcast for three weeks.

“It was Saturday morning,” Kaser recalled. “It was the weekend we had off, which … is a rarity. It was the weekend before we were leaving for a 13-day road trip, so my wife and I were looking at it as our weekend to do some shopping, really our only weekend. I just did not feel well at all and it just intensified. And I said to my wife Rosalie, ‘I hate to tell you this, but our weekend as far as shopping is going to have to be put on hold, at least for now, because I don’t feel well. I gotta go to the hospital.’ And she looked at me and could tell right away that something was wrong. So we raced down to Metro Hospital and by the time she went an dropped me off at emergency and went and parked three minutes later, I was pretty much already on a table in the emergency room.”

At 60 years old, 5-foot-11 and a very fit 165 pounds, and with no warning signs, Kaser had suffered a mild heart attack.

“Laying in that hospital bed and hearing from the doctors and nurses say that you’ve had or (are) having a heart attack, it’s surreal as it gets,” Kaser said.

There was a blockage in his right coronary artery that required a stent to open.

Kaser’s mind was drawn back to a month before his heart attack when Bill LeRoy, the Griffins video coach, died suddenly in his hotel room during a Griffins road trip.

“Why him, not me?” Kaser wondered, fighting back tears.

While Kaser can’t wait to get back in the booth, he’s happily spending this time at home with his family.

“My family is a gift way beyond any words that I can come up with,” Kaser said. “I love life more than ever.”

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