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Thursday, November 9, 2017

Roy Halladay's Three Goodbyes

In 2010, Roy Halladay said goodbye to the city of Toronto and to his Blue Jays teammates.

Longing for a chance at a World Series after playing on 12 wholly uninspiring Blue Jays teams, Roy forced a trade to the City of Brotherly Love to pitch for the contending Phillies. How beloved must a player - in any sport - be to be cheered after forcing his or her way out of city? As beloved as Halladay was and continues to be. He was showered with applause in 2012 ahead of his return start in Toronto. A start he won - of course - by throwing a complete game.

That was a difficult goodbye because it was Roy Halladay. Roy Frickin' Halladay. holder of a prime position on the Blue Jays' Mount Rushmore and one of the primary reasons I love baseball to the degree I do today.

Get the ball, throw the ball. Change speeds. Throw strikes. Pitch to contact. No deep counts.

If you went to the bathroom during a Halladay start, you were liable to miss three innings. To love Halladay was to love baseball, and vice versa. He was everything there was to love about baseball. Hard work and talent commingled into the perfect pitching machine.


The next goodbye was arguably harder.

Sure, Roy pitched for the Phillies in the National League, but he was pitching nonetheless. Blue Jays fans were still able to enjoy his exploits from afar - a Cy Young Award, a postseason no-hitter, a perfect game. But Roy said goodbye to life as a professional baseball player following a 2013 season during which he made only 13 starts. The perfect pitching machine was breaking down. Even though his body was faltering, he still took the ball when able, but he was a shell of his former self. He spent almost four months on the disabled list in that final campaign, so he knew it was time to hang up his spikes, retiring from baseball at season’s end.

The ever-loyal Halladay even signed a one-day ceremonial contract with the Blue Jays so he could retire with the team that drafted him. The love the fans showed him was mutual.

In retirement, Roy revealed a sense of humour hidden for the most part during his big-league years, including a damn-near hilarious Twitter feed and a quasi-famous zoo visit with a blogger who lobbied for the outing. Halladay coached youth baseball, showing unbridled joy at his team's wins, and by all accounts doted on his family.

In addition, his love of flying - of becoming a pilot - was turned up a notch.


The final goodbye hurt most of all.

It wasn't even a goodbye Roy was able to make himself. Roy Halladay, at 40 years old - the same age as me – died Tuesday in the Gulf of Mexico after crashing his small seaplane, leaving behind his wife, Brandy, and two young sons, Ryan and Braden.

He retired after the prime of his career, but he died in the prime of his life. At a time when celebrity deaths seem to be neverending, this gut punch hurts more than most. Even now, it seems surreal. Every time a tweet shows up in my timeline and reminds me of the terrible news, it takes a couple seconds to register. It's like a hammer intermittently smashing into my head: it is true, it is true, it is true.

Roy Halladay, for all intents and purposes, was the Blue Jays for nigh a decade. It seems, after Halladay's untimely death, a part of the Blue Jays has died as well.


My only personal anecdote of Roy Halladay may reveal more about the man himself than all his innings on the mound:

On the last game of the season sometime in the late-2000s, I managed to finagle a pair of seats at SkyDome about a dozen rows behind the Blue Jays’ dugout. As I am wont to do, I was there embarrassingly early to watch batting practice and enjoy the sounds of pregame baseball. At one point, I glanced toward the dugout, and peering over the barrier into the sparse crowd was Roy Halladay himself. He gave a small wave to a mother and her young son seated to my left, but they didn't notice. Roy glanced over at me and quickly looked back at the mother and son.

That short look in my direction seemed to say: "Can you give me a hand here? And I don't mean come over and ask me for an autograph." So, I did what I had to do and what Roy Halladay voicelessly asked of me.

"Excuse me," I said to the mother. "I ... I think Roy Halladay is trying to get your attention." She gave me a quizzical look, so I pointed at Roy. She followed my eyes and saw him. Then he waved the two of them over.

They had a very short conversation - 15, 20 seconds - after which Halladay handed his game-used baseball glove to the young boy. Mom was excited, but her son didn’t seem to understand the gift he had in his hands. Roy smiled as he watched mom and son walk back to their seats, and when they sat down, Roy waved using only his index finger. It was an impossibly cute gesture that seemed so out of place at the time for the ever-stoic Halladay, but makes so much sense in hindsight.

I pointed at the stitched “Roy Halladay” along the glove’s thumb and tried to explain to the boy what he had, at the scarcity and rarity of the keepsake, but he didn't care what some random stranger had to say, he was too busy looking at Roy Halladay’s glove.

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