Eight years after his arrival into the clubhouse just a few feet away in Clearwater, Fla., when he memorably made his first impression as a Philadelphia Phillies player by arriving to work before anyone else in the building, before the sun came up, before even Chase Utley thought was an appropriate time to show up on his first day of spring training, Roy Halladay was remembered by the baseball community.
The Halladay family, the Phillies, and the Toronto Blue Jays hosted a celebration of Halladay’s life at Spectrum Field, where the Phillies call spring training home and where the late pitcher had set up an office within the last year as he transitioned toward a post-playing career as a roving pitching instructor and mental skills coach.
They all gathered – friends and family, former teammates and coaches – to say goodbye. A stirring, 90-minute ceremony was held late Tuesday afternoon, almost exactly a week after the tragic news that the 40-year-old Halladay died in a plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico.
The field was decorated with flower arrangements just behind the mound: a blue one with the “32” Halladay wore in Toronto and a red arrangement with the “34” he wore in Philadelphia. The numbers were also etched into the dirt on the mound, just in front of the pitching rubber.
The ceremony was televised live on MLB Network and simulcast for folks in Philadelphia and Toronto to watch online. The crowd in Clearwater was populated with many familiar faces, including Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Jonathan Papelbon, Brad Lidge, Kyle Kendrick, Charli Manuel, Chris Carpenter and Scott Rolen, among others.
Phillies broadcaster Tom McCarthy worked as the master of ceremonies and nine people, including Halladay’s father, Roy Halladay Jr., and his wife, Brandy, shared their remembrances. If you care to watch the entire ceremony (have some tissues handy) you can click on the video above.
But here are some highlights, beginning with the comments made by Phillies general partner John Middleton, who called knowing Halladay “one of the greatest privileges” of his life and recalled a story of the late pitcher’s kindness toward children in need.
“Doc was, without question, one of the greatest pitchers of this generation,” Middleton said. “In fact, you can make that statement about any generation. But he was a great pitcher because he was first and foremost a great person. The man made the ballplayer, not the other way around.
“His story was more than a sports story. His story was written across the front pages of newspapers because Doc transcended sports. … The devastation we feel reflects the impact he had on our lives and is an acknowledgment of what we lost. The rarest of athletes are individuals who embody the ideals of athletic competition: hard work, perseverance, discipline, fair play, teamwork. And meld those ideals with the ideals are broader society values in our leaders: compassion, humility, integrity, and service to others. These athletes are transformation athletes. They inspire their teammates to be better. They spurred their organizations to be better. They galvanize the communities in which they play to be better. They made their sport better. Roy was one of those exceptional athletes. You don’t need to be a baseball fan to know who Doc was and the ideas for which he stood. He set a standard that now only all baseball players are judged, but athletes in general.”
A grief-stricken J.P. Ricciardi followed Middleton to the microphone. Ricciardi, who served as the general manager of Toronto during Halladay’s Blue Jays career, quoted Tim McGraw lyrics, saying Halladay lived them in “always staying humble and kind.”
“I was treated to your excellence every fifth day and you never let any of us down,” Ricciardi said. “But you were so much more than a baseball player to me. A loving husband and dad. You’re one of the classiest players I ever had the pleasure to be around, one of the most humble stars I’ve ever seen.”
Roy had many gifts on the field, but in my opinion, his biggest gift came off the field. He had the effortless ability to deflect pride onto others, something that in today’s game is tough to do.
Cole Hamels, a pitcher 6 1/2 years Halladay’s junior, became teammates when the Phillies traded for the long-time Toronto ace after appearing in back to back World Series. Hamels said he didn’t just learn how to become a better pitcher by watching the man universally considered the best in the game but also learned how to be a better man, too.
“How you want to treat others, live a life of baseball and fatherhood – he exemplified the best and the most humble loving person,” Hamels said. “It’s something that I know I strive to tell my boys, to drive to be the best, strive for excellence. Find somebody who is going to make you better. Roy did that for me. But even at the same time, you have to understand what you have to do with that. When you become the best, what do you do? Roy showed everyone what to do. He was not boastful. He was the most humble human being I’ve ever met. The type of talent and integrity he had in the game of baseball.
“And on the outside? He was a loving father, a loving husband. And that right there really exemplifies more than the game of baseball. We live a fortunate life to play the game of baseball, but it’s what we do with it after the fact. I think that’s something that’s summed up here, Brandy, Braden, and Ryan, we’re here for you. You guys hold such a special part in our heart and Roy’s legacy lives with you guys and we want to be a part of that.”
After former Blue Jays athletic trainer Greg Poulis spoke, sharing a story of breaking down at the 2009 All-Star Game because he was proud of the career Halladay was having and jokingly told to quit by the pitcher for being too emotional, Utley spoke to the crowd. For the first time at a microphone behind the mound since his infamous Halloween performance in 2008, Utley’s words were just as memorable.
“Everyone here loved Roy,” Utley began. “As a teammate, I got to see every day what it took to be a man among boys. Roy’s relentless work ethic, discipline, and determination was just a small piece of his mastery of baseball. … Roy had many gifts on the field, but in my opinion, his biggest gift came off the field. He had the effortless ability to deflect pride onto others, something that in today’s game is tough to do. This trait brought out the best in his teammates, we really truly wanted to fight as hard as we could for him.”
Utley had to pause and regain his composure, fighting off the tears that wanted to come, when he personally spoke to Halladay’s teenage sons, Braden and Ryan, at the end of his speech.
“He was a professional, he was a gentleman … throughout his entire career,” Utley said. “As a husband and a father, I understand the demands this career puts on our families. We can’t do this alone and I’m a firm believer that without our family’s support, we would not be able to achieve our ultimate goals. Braden and Ryan: we talked a lot about you guys. You were a little bit shorter back when we first began talking about you.
“Your dad was the best teammate I’ve ever played with, the most fierce competitor I’ve ever seen. I’m sure all of your lives you’ve heard people praise your dad and tell them how proud they were of him, but throughout all of the conversations I ever had with him, he was more proud of what you guys had accomplished than with whatever he had accomplished on the field. Brandy, Braden and Ryan, thank you for sharing him with us.”
Charlie Manuel recalled first meeting Halladay at the 2009 All-Star Game, when he was the National League’s manager and Halladay was the American League’s starting pitcher. Halladay’s name was the biggest in baseball’s trade rumor season that July, and Manuel recalled telling him “he’d look good in a Phillies uniform.” Less than six months later that became a reality.
You’ll always be able to google Roy Halladay and see his stats… But what you can’t google is his heart. His grace. His kindness. His caring for others. His generosity. Or his love for his family.
“I have to say I was pretty damn excited,” Manuel said. “A pitcher like Roy doesn’t come around very often. I didn’t know Roy personally up until then, but when spring training camp opened in 2010, I learned on the first day who he was as a competitor when he beat me and almost everyone to the ballpark. That morning he came and dug right in with his legendary workout and routine. We were already a good team, but I knew Roy’s quality preparation and laser focus would have an instant impact on the Phillies.”
Three months after first seeing Halladay’s work up close and personal in Clearwater, Manuel watched from the dugout in Miami when the pitcher threw a perfect game. But it was after that when he truly saw who Halladay was as a person.
Halladay bought luxury watches for everyone in the Phillies clubhouse – players, coaches, trainers, bat boys and clubhouse attendants – to show his appreciation. Inscribed on the box was “We did it together.”
“That told me everything I needed to know about his generation spirit and his respect for his baseball team,” Manuel said. “He saw his perfect game as our perfect game. Roy was a huge star, he was selfless, he was kind, gentle.”
Tuesday’s ceremony was often tough to watch. The camera continuously panned toward Halladay’s children. Hearing his father and wife speak about the man they truly cherished was heart-breaking.
Thankfully Carpenter, one of Halladay’s closest friends in baseball, someone he first met 20 years earlier, when both were at Triple-A Syracuse as top Toronto pitching prospects, helped lighten the mood with a story that showed off Halladay’s fun-loving personality. The two had gone on a fishing trip in Brazil during one of the offseason during Halladay’s Phillies career.
“He was never afraid of a challenge or doing something that others might now want to do or dare to do, like one of the times we went fishing and it was 100 degrees out, and he wanted to jump into the Amazon River,” Carpenter said. “Remember now, we’re in the jungle. And the water is as clear as a cup of coffee. And we’d been catching piranhas all day. I looked at him and said, ‘You’re freaking nuts.” He said, ‘ I know. Now come on, Carp, it’s wicked hot and I’m sweating like crazy. And we can say we swam in the Amazon River. Who do we know that could ever say that?’ I was like, good point, let’s do it.
“He talked back and forth with our guide – they speak Portuguese in Brazil – and so it was Doc and him back and forth, Doc using Spanish words and him using Portuguese words. It was free entertainment watching Doc try to communicate with the guy. Finally, they decided they found a good place for us to swim. … Before I knew it Doc was belly-flopping into that coffee-colored water. He proceeded to backstroke around – I literally have the video of this – and I’m like, “Dude get back in the boat you’re going to get eaten by something.’ And he’s like, ‘Come on, get in.’”
Wearing sunglasses, Carpenter fought back tears as he recalled sitting in the St. Louis Cardinals team bus outside Citizens Bank Park on the first Friday night in October back in 2011, the night he beat his friend in an epic, 1-0 Game 5 of the National League Division Series. “After pitching his heart out,” Halladay congratulated his friend while seated inside the Phillies clubhouse and wished him luck the rest of the way.
“I could talk about when he came back (from Class A), he totally revamped his mechanics, his mind. He told me he’d never be that bad again,” Carpenter said. “You could see it on his face, in his body language, that he was going to dominate and never look back. And that’s what he did. … He said he would be that bad again, and he never was. He was great. He was the best of our generation, a Hall of Famer. He’ll never be forgotten.
“But here’s the thing. You’ll always be able to google Roy Halladay and see his stats. All his accomplishments and all his awards. But what you can’t google is his heart. His grace. His kindness. His caring for others. His generosity. Or his love for his family. He wasn’t put on earth to be a good baseball player, that was just his job.
“He was put on here to love people, to encourage people, and lead people to be better, and that’s what he did. He was my friend and I love him and I always will. And until it’s my time and God takes me and I get to see him again, which I know I will, I will always have that picture of him laughing as he’s backstroking in the Amazon River. I love you Doc, and I’ll see you soon.”
Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21
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