Roy’s impact felt as Braden Halladay makes emotional debut for Canada

Braden Halladay will be pitching for Canada’s junior team, and Arash Madani spoke with him about everything from choosing to wear the Maple Leaf to how he has dealt with the passing of his father Roy.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – When Braden Halladay first started playing organized baseball, he wondered where the locker rooms were, where the bullpen was and why nobody was broadcasting his games.

He had grown up, after all, in the big-league ballparks that his father, Roy Halladay, had played in. Why wouldn’t T-ball offer the same perks?

Now that Braden Halladay’s becoming a prospect, he’s more aware of the differences between himself and his father. They’re both pitchers, sure, and Braden shares a strong physical resemblance with the tall, lanky pitcher the Blue Jays drafted in the first round of the 1995 draft.

But in other ways, they’re distinct. Roy Halladay could throw 95 m.p.h. as a high schooler. Braden, a 17-year-old high school junior who’s draft eligible in 2019, cannot.

"If I try to throw a fastball down the middle, it goes 400 feet and I look stupid," he said.

Stylistically, then, he’s a different pitcher than his father was, a different pitcher than Nolan Ryan, his favourite player. Maybe that’s out of necessity given that he tops around 83 m.p.h.

"Definitely not a power pitcher," Braden said. "At all. Definitely a groundball guy. Projectable considering I probably weigh the least out of anyone on the team."

Until he fills out, he’ll be more projection than finished product.

"You can certainly see a semblance of his dad in terms of the future," said Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams. "Obviously that’s a standard that we’re not going to say he’s going to replicate because that’s an incredible standard for anybody to try to replicate but his arm works, he’s got some size and he’s still a young man growing into his frame. He’s got a chance to be a pretty decent pitcher."

Halladay pitched a three-up, three-down inning for the Canadian National Junior Team Saturday, a Canadian flag stitched onto his glove. He faced a Blue Jays lineup that included Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Dwight Smith Jr. and Kacy Clemens, and on an afternoon filled with father-son connections, Roy Halladay’s absence was that much more evident.

Brandy Halladay was in the stands watching her son pitch, and before the game Braden wondered what his father might have told him had he been around to see his son pitch for his birth country against the team he grew up watching.

"Now you’ve got to prove it," Braden imagined his father would have told him. "Obviously he’d be very excited about the opportunity but he’d still be drilling me as if it were a summer travel ball game or a high school game. Prepare the right way, don’t throw 80 mile an hour pitches right over the plate, things like that."

Before he died in a November plane crash, Halladay coached his son on all things pitching. They’d talk mechanics, of course, and they’d also discuss the mental side of the game, with Roy attempting to impart some of the lessons it took him years to learn.

"From a pitching standpoint it was everything I could have asked for and more," Braden said. "Especially now, every time I make mistakes I still hear him drilling me about them in my head."

Halladay pushed his son — to a point.

"He never made me get up and do things," Braden said. "He’d let me know that it was my choice whether I really wanted to work hard and be good, but he pushed me to realize that this is what you have to do if you want to get there."

Braden says it wasn’t hard hearing advice from a two-time Cy Young Award winner and likely Hall of Famer. What does wear on him is the expectation that he’ll have the same physical abilities as his father.

"People think, ‘Oh, he’s Roy Halladay’s son, he should throw 95 m.p.h. at 12 years old," Braden said.

Born in Toronto, Halladay now lives in Florida but he reached out to Hamilton over the winter to express interest in playing for the Canadian National Junior Team. Hamilton watched video of the right-hander, spoke to people who had seen him pitch and determined that he deserved a spot on the team based on merit, not sentiment.

On a personal level, Hamilton has already been impressed.

"He’s a wonderful young man," Hamilton said. "He’s really mature. He’s got a lot of depth of thought, he can speak for himself … He’s everything that you’re kind of looking for character-wise."

If crowd noise offers any indication, the inning Halladay pitched meant something to many of the 2,963 people in attendance at Dunedin Stadium Saturday. For Braden, the experience of wearing Canada’s colours and facing the Blue Jays built a sense of appreciation for his years in Toronto.

"I feel like I couldn’t have had a better place to grow up," he said. "Even though I’m not living there I still feel it’s a part of who I am."

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