Friday, November 24, 2017

Remembering Roy Halladay

I’m a baseball fan.  I’m sure that this comes as a shock to no one reading this.  I love the game.  I can spend (and love to spend) hours talking on the subject.  I am a baseball fan first and a Blue Jays fan second.  The Blue Jays are my favourite team and they always have been.  I like other teams as well but the Jays have always been number 1 in my heart.  That’s always been a constant.  My favourite player though I will admit has changed a few times over the years. 

My love affair with baseball started fairly early for me.  From the time my parents first took me to the then Sky Dome in Toronto as a wide-eyed 9 year old I’ve loved the game.  The Blue Jays lost that day to the Seattle Mariners.  However what I took away from the experience (and my only real memory of the game) was Fred McGriff hitting a home run.  From that day forth I decided that Fred McGriff was my favourite player.  Apparently all it takes to win over a 9 year old is a home run.  I still have a soft spot for McGriff and I am quite disappointed that he is not in the hall of fame (but that, my friends, is a rant for another day).  I was a pretty devastated when he was traded that offseason.  I had never heard of Joe Carter or Roberto Alomar and wanted no part of either one of them.  McGriff was gone.  That was all that mattered to me.  Pat Gillick was my new arch nemesis. 

Then this Alomar guy came in and won my young heart.  The plays, the uncanny ability to make an off-balance throw, the range… He was unbelievable.  A complete five-tool player.  He could hit, he could run, he could throw, he could field like no one else and occasionally he could hit for power.  Especially when it mattered (ahem Dennis Eckersley).  Alomar became my favourite player and remained so throughout his playing career.

Roy Halladay vs Baltimore Orioles. April 24, 2005
Then came a player like no one I had ever seen.  Now I mention that I am a baseball fan, but I haven’t always been an engaged one.  Oh I’ve always loved the game, I have since that day at the ball park back in 1990.  However after the strike in 1994, I like many other Canadians lost interest for a while.  It was early in 2005 when Rogers offered my wife and I a discounted rate on a Blue Jays ticket flex pack.  Stef asked me if I was interested in going at all and I said “sure, I love baseball I just haven’t watched it since the strike.  It would be fun to go to a few games though.”  We were young and didn’t have any kids back then (or any money) so we thought it would be a fun thing to do that wouldn’t cost a lot.  This was when everything changed for me and my love for the game was re-ignited. Sunday April 24, 2005 was officially my first game back.  The first game of our shiny new six game flex pack we had just purchased.  Roy Halladay and the Blue Jays against Sidney Ponson and the Baltimore Orioles.  I had heard about this Halladay guy and how great he was, so I was excited.  Although I soon wondered what all of the fuss was about.  Halladay gave up six runs over six innings including home runs to Melvin Mora and Sammy Sosa.  Sosa ended up going deep twice that game in an effort to silence the Toronto faithful who had come armed with anti-Sosa, anti-steroid and corked bat signs seen all around the ball park.  It was not Halladay’s best outing.  Lucky for me it was the first of many Halladay starts we would attend and I am pretty sure the only one I ever witnessed live where he would give up more than three earned runs.   

Halladay very quickly became not only my favourite pitcher, but my favourite player as well.  He was one of the best pitchers I’ve ever seen.  His work ethic, his character and his dedication to be one of the best is nothing short of admirable.  I admired him.  If you know me at all you don’t have to look far to see this.  There is an autographed photo of him hanging in my office.  An autographed jersey and baseball on display in my home.  Numerous photos, cards, bobbleheads, collectibles etc.  Even my car has a Toronto Blue Jays license plate with Halladay’s number 32 proudly displayed on it.  I loved watching him pitch.  Hell, I loved watching him warm up.

On November 7 I received a text shortly after 3:30 in the afternoon from a friend.  Did you hear?  A plane registered to Roy Halladay has crashed in the Gulf.  I started searching for details online and while searching my phone continued to go off with text messages, BBM's and Facebook Messenger messages from family, friends and acquaintances asking if I'd heard the news.  Did they know how many people?  Had I heard if it was him yet?  Do they know what happened yet?  It was heart wrenching.  I immediately thought of his young family and hoped it wasn't him.   Later that afternoon during the press conference we all learned the worst.  

Now I’m a little late to the party here.  Roy Halladay passed away over two weeks ago and his memorial service was last week.  The truth is it took me a while to process my thoughts and how I felt about this.  By now we have all heard what happened, so I don’t want to revisit that.  I don’t want to bore you by rhyming off stats, awards and achievements that he earned because we have all heard them before and we already know how great he was.  Any Google or YouTube search can quickly provide you with any highlights or statistical information you could ever want on Roy Halladay.

If you haven’t watched his memorial service I highly recommend that you do.  If you have then you have heard from many different accounts, not only what kind of player he was, but also what kind of man he was off of the field.  I didn’t know him personally, so I don’t think it is fair that I talk about that either.  What I do want to tell you about is what Roy Halladay meant to me as a fan, how he impacted me and what I will always remember him for.

I remember his curve ball.  My word, what a curve ball.  If you have never had the pleasure of watching Roy Halladay pitch please do yourself a favour and Google Roy Halladay highlights.  Even if you are not a baseball fan, you can appreciate what he could do.  I once told a friend of mine that I could sit and watch Halladay throw curve balls all day.  There wouldn’t even have to be a batter there.  I would just simply watch in awe as he sailed in that pitch at letter height and then have it drop like a stone over the plate.  The weekend after Halladay passed away, a good friend of mine who lives in a different city came to visit us at our home just to hang out and catch up.  The conversation turned to Halladay passing away and he mentioned that he had never seen Roy pitch.  My nine year old son immediately said “Oh, you gotta see this” so we quickly pulled up a Halladay highlight video on YouTube.  “My goodness” my friend exclaimed “How did anyone even hit that?”  The simple answer:  When Halladay was on, you didn’t hit it.

I remember being in attendance when A.J. Burnette returned to Toronto after opting out of his contract with the Jays and signing with the Yankees in the offseason.  Halladay schooled him.  Throwing a complete game allowing just five hits and leading the Jays to a 5-1 win.   The fans ate it up.  It really was an experience to be there.

I remember his competitiveness.  One time Stefanie and I got to really see what Halladay could do.   Whenever Halladay pitched, he pitched efficiently and worked quickly.  He always had.  That’s one of the reasons why he was able to throw as many complete games as he did.  However sometimes inducing lots of ground balls doesn’t mean getting outs.  At this particular game Halladay was on the wrong end of four close calls on the field in one inning and there had been others before then in the previous innings.  After the fourth of these calls (which was obviously a blown call), Halladay was visibly frustrated.  This, of course, was long before video replay was a thing.  So, rather than continuing to get hosed by the umpires, Halladay simply decided to get the batters himself.  He struck guys out.  Repeatedly.  He struck out the next three batters that inning.  Struck out two the following inning.  Two more the inning after that and then struck out the side the next inning.  Even though he lost that start, it was amazing to watch.  He was a machine.  He really showed that if he wanted to go out there and dominate by beating hitters that he could.   He chose to put balls in play to get outs.

He was tough.  I was there when Kevin Mench hit a line drive back to the mound that broke Roy’s shin.   Halladay picked up the ball and made a perfect throw from his ass to first base to get the out.  Another time Nyjer Morgan hit a ball off of Halladay’s head and it was later learned that the first thing Halladay said to Rod Barajas when he got to him was “Did we get the out?”  For the record, they did get the out.

I will never forget the autographs that we were able to obtain from him.  He signed autographs like he played the game.  Like he was in a zone.  The first time we had the pleasure was at a game in Cleveland in 2007.   Stef and I had taken a sign with us that read “Roy Halladay may I please have your autograph”.   When we reached the park we went down to field level and soon spotted Halladay shagging fly balls during batting practice.  When he finally looked our way we held the sign high and it was evident that he turned and read it.  Didn’t acknowledge it, but had clearly looked in our direction and stopped on the sign.  Then immediately snapped back to looking forward and paying attention to the hitters again.  I was afraid we had picked the wrong time and didn’t expect him to come over.  He did.  On his way off of the field he came to where we were standing and we each got our photo ready.  He reached us and we greeted him but didn’t get a response.  He saw that we each had a photo, and he very carefully took the photo from Stef and signed it.  Then signed a few other items for other fans and was gone as quickly as he had arrived.  Many of us greeted him and asked how he was etc.  However the only words the man spoke were “you’re welcome” after each thank you he received.  The second time was an organized signing, but wasn’t much different from the first.  Again, Halladay was in “the zone”.  This was at a game honouring some Blue Jays pitching alumni during the 2016 season.  Pat Hentgen, Duane Ward, Mike Timlin, Juan Guzman, Dave Steib, Tom Henke and Roy Halladay were each there.  Halladay was at a table by himself down at the end.  I approached him and greeted him with a “Hi Roy, good to see you”.  No response.  I handed him my jersey and he very carefully took it from me.  “How are you doing today?”  I asked.  No response.  Instead, he was staring very intensely at the jersey.  With great care, he took his sharpie and slowly and carefully signed his name below the letters and above the number.  It is a great autograph.  He inspected his work, and only when he decided he was satisfied with it, handed the jersey back to me.  “Thank you so much Roy, have a great day” I said.   “You’re welcome” was the first and only response I received from him.   When Halladay had a job to do, any job it seems, he was going to do the best job he could do.

I will never forget Roy Halladay for his love of Toronto.  For signing here and avoiding free agency more than once when he could have gotten more on the open market.  Then when he finally did leave, he signed a deal with Philadelphia for much less than some of his counter parts did that same off-season.  All because it was where he wanted to play and have a shot to pitch in the post season.  It was another testament to his character.  He wasn’t in the game to make as much money as he possibly could.

I remember the first time I saw him in person in a Phillies jersey.  Four of us went to Pittsburgh to watch the Phillies and Pirates play two games.  A good friend and I wore our Halladay Jays jerseys with Phillies caps to both games.  We took a pretty good verbal beating from the Pittsburgh fans.  They didn’t understand that we were Halladay fans, only that we were two idiots wearing Jays jerseys to a Pirates/Phillies game.  It was worth it though, an experience I won’t forget. 

I have so many memories.  I remember being in Toronto and watching Halladay and Buehrle go toe to toe in a game that lasted only an hour and fifty some minutes.  It was a gem.  I remember watching Halladay and Scott Kazmir also throw a game that was also under two hours.  Between the two of them they only gave up 3 hits if I remember correctly.  I remember his first perfect game on May 29, 2010.  I was watching on television when he threw his no hitter in the playoffs against the Reds that same season.  I will never forget game five between the Phillies and Cardinals.  Halladay and his good friend Chris Carpenter pitched one of the best games I have ever had the pleasure of watching.  Two aces in their prime going head to head.  I loved every second of it.

So really what I am saying is:  Thank you Roy.  Thank you for everything you did for the city of Toronto.  Thank you for all of the charity work that you did while you were here, and throughout your life.  Thank you for everything you did for the fans.  Thank you for all of the wonderful memories.  Thank you. 

I have a feeling that if Halladay were here and I could thank him in person exactly what his response would be.  The only words he ever spoke to me.  A very plain and simple:

“You’re Welcome”

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