CLEARWATER, Fla. – There’s no way to ease the anguish caused by death’s grim finality, or to make the loss hurt less. The best we can do is find ways to cope amid the sorrow, to seek outlets for the grief. For some two hours Tuesday, a celebration of Roy Halladay’s life at turns poignant, touching, raw and heartbreaking did just that for those mourning the iconic pitcher, who died in a plane crash last week.
Nine different remembrances, sometimes eliciting laughs, more often moistening eyes, extended well beyond Halladay the pitcher, filling in some details of what he was as a son, a friend, a father and a husband. His wife Brandy’s words, forced through tears throughout her 18 minutes on the dais by the mound at the Philadelphia Phillies’ spring home, were especially powerful as she recounted their meeting, their courtship, their marriage and their life.
“I’m not sure how to be me without him,” she said in an achingly eloquent description of her heartbreak.
Over and over, the speakers demonstrated how Halladay’s many accomplishments on the baseball field paled in comparison to the lasting impact he made on so many different lives.
J.P. Ricciardi, his former general manager with the Toronto Blue Jays, delivered his remembrance in the form of a letter to Halladay, and cried when he said, “My life was better because you were in it.”
Former Phillies teammate Cole Hamels described Halladay as “monumental to where I am and who I will become.”
Blue Jays head trainer George Poulis relayed the routine he and Halladay shared before each start in Toronto, the right-hander waiting for Poulis to say, “Have a good one, Doc,” before leaving the trainers’ room following his pre-game treatment. Poulis closed his remembrance with one last send-off.
Former Phillies teammate Chase Utley told Halladay’s teenaged sons Braden and Ryan that their dad was more proud of their accomplishments than anything he did himself.
Chris Carpenter recalled how he and Halladay shared the pressure of trying to replace Roger Clemens and Pat Hentgen on their way up through the Blue Jays system, told a wild story about a fishing trip that included a belly-flop into the Amazon River, and recounted how he received a congratulatory text from his friend after beating him 1-0 in the decisive fifth game of the 2011 National League Division Series.
Halladay’s father, Roy Halladay Jr., recounted how his son didn’t immediately take to baseball as a child, once running to third base instead of first after making contact with the ball, and beamed at the way he grew into a better son than baseball player.
Brandy Halladay, closing out the remembrances, again ripped up hearts when she told her boys, “I still get to see him every day, because I look at you.”
As Aaron Hill, one of several former Blue Jays teammates in attendance, put it afterwards, “It was so nice to hear some of the words today and what he meant to so many people.”
Hill said he tried to model himself after Halladay following his rookie year in 2005 and recalled how he asked if they could work out together during the off-season.
“I thought he was going to tell me to get lost, rookie whatever, but he said, ‘Yeah. We meet at Bob Evans at 4:30 next week,’” said Hill. “I chuckled, I thought he was going to say just kidding, but he was serious, so I said, ‘OK, I’ll be there.’ The season just ended, we met at Bob Evans, I went thinking he might not show up, he was just playing a joke on me, but I showed up early and he was there early, at 4:15. I remember thinking, ‘OK, he’s here, it’s not a joke, he’s ready to go. Now, what do I talk to Doc about at Bob Evans?’”
Turned out they had plenty to talk about, speaking more about life than baseball. Those were times when Hill got to see some of Halladay’s lighter side, although there was no better demonstration of that than during the spring of 2006, when Halladay and A.J. Burnett decided Hill and Russ Adams had some payback coming for teasing them about their fast friendship.
One morning before workouts, Halladay and Burnett hired a plane to fly a banner that read, “Aaron, will you marry me. I love you. Russ.” Everyone got a good laugh, but the prank was just beginning, as when the players returned to the clubhouse, a full wedding reception had been set up by a professional catering company in the dining room to celebrate.
“He and A.J. Burnett got us really good, with the whole flyover and the wedding, oh you name it,” said Hill. “We had fun with him.”
So, too, did former Blue Jays second baseman Orlando Hudson, who remembered bonding with Halladay in the minors despite their opposite personalities – Hudson bounces off walls with his mile-a-minute energy, while Halladay was famous for his buttoned-down determination.
“When my parents weren’t in town and my wife wasn’t in town to cook for me, I would go buy Popeyes chicken and Doc used to hate me eating Popeyes chicken, like ‘Oh, man, you’re going to kill yourself eating all this fried food,’” said Hudson. “I was like, ‘Man, I’m just a little black guy from the South, I need my fried chicken.’
“So I’d sit there eating my chicken right in front of his face and he’d stare right in my face, hating it.”
Hudson’s ribbing of Halladay didn’t stop at dining decisions.
“I used to tell him and Chris Carpenter when we were in the minor leagues, ‘Dude, I can’t wait to face either one of you, I’m going wear your butts out,’” said Hudson. “I got one hit off Roy, two off Carp through the years and I had a blast playing behind them. They brought energy, they pitched the way the game of baseball is supposed to be pitched, man. Me and Roy have many stories, I talked so much trash to Roy. On gameday, because he didn’t talk on gameday, I might slap him upside the head and he didn’t say anything, he’d grit his teeth and look at me all crazy. That’s my boy, man.
“Every fifth day when he got the ball, I’m like I know I’m getting at least 10 ground balls. I’m thankful for him, that’s how I got my first Gold Glove, he got me my first Gold Glove.”
Ben Revere played only one season with Halladay on the Phillies in 2013, but still said the right-hander changed him both as a professional and as a man.
“Going through my struggles early, he always said, ‘Ben, here’s the main thing I want you to know in this game, if guys see you not being a true teammate, just pouting about yourself, that’s when you won’t last long,’” he said. “Baseball is a humbling sport, he said, ‘This game is going to humble you, but at the same time, you know how in every single way to play the game, you know how to compete. It starts with your heart, your work ethic and definitely your faith in you.’ He and Charlie (Manuel) really helped me change my game that year. Coming in every day, I didn’t think I was able to hit any more, I don’t know where my hitting was, but it really helped me out.
“Those words he gave me, I really took to heart and cherished them. He’s that great of a person.”
During his remembrance, Ricciardi thanked Halladay for providing a positive influence on his sons and described him as the most humble of superstar. Later, he described the right-hander’s selflessness and determination to win with the Blue Jays.
“We went to him on two different occasions, we wanted to extend him, we wanted to take care of him but it wasn’t about the money for Doc, he wanted to win,” said Ricciardi. “Whether it was recruiting (A.J.) Burnett, (B.J.) Ryan when we had a little bit of money to work with and we could go after some guys, ‘Hey Doc would you mind flying in?’ No problem, he flies in to Toronto, helps meet the guys, helps talk to the guys. He was so invested in what we were trying to do, it was a two-way street. That’s why he was so special, not only in Toronto, but then they got to see it in Philadelphia, too. Even when they were cutting payroll (in Toronto) and we were talking about trading Doc, we went to him and said, ‘Doc, listen, we’re not going to trade you anywhere you don’t want to go. This is going to be your call.’ That’s how much respect we had for him. With how much he’d given to us, we owed it to him to give something back.
“I’ve been in the game 38 years, I’ve been around a lot of great players, been a part of a lot of good things, but this was one of the best guys, No. 1, and one of the saddest days.”