TORONTO – Kids always marvelled at seeing the field when invited to watch a Toronto Blue Jays game from Doc’s Box, and that stuck with Roy and Brandy Halladay. They’d often discuss the mix of excitement and awe they’d seen on the faces of people they met, especially those able to walk the turf themselves. And they’d imagine ways to replicate that for children on crutches or in wheelchairs, wondering how to give them the experience of getting on the field, too.
“We dog-eared it in our book of things to do,” says Brandy, but that fell to the backburner after the Hall of Fame right-hander’s trade to the Philadelphia Phillies, where the couple’s focus shifted to work with at-risk children and youth.
All these years later, Roy “would have grinned from ear-to-ear,” at Friday’s news that Jays Care Foundation and the City of Toronto named the city’s first accessible baseball diamond Roy Halladay Field.
The venue, located at Highview Park, is covered in vulcanized rubber for traction and features wide, double-row dugouts that allow players in wheelchairs to easily manoeuvre. It will be home to a Challenger Baseball league, an adaptive version of the sport for kids with cognitive and/or physical disabilities.
Nearby Variety Village will also offer programming there, opening a new pathway to participation for those who don’t always get one. The late Halladay would have been 44 on Friday, “and I know Roy would be ecstatic,” says Brandy, his widow.
“Roy didn’t like to be praised for his on-field and career accomplishments, he was really humble and introverted in that way,” she continues. “But Roy was always willing to attach himself to something like this. The field isn’t about him, it’s about hopefully helping kids.
“There are so many positives through the interactions of sports,” she added. “This gives them a chance to be a part of things, let’s them be a part of something not in their daily lives.”
The Halladays began hosting SickKids patients and their families at Doc’s Box in 2003 (a tradition that’s continued since his trade at the rebranded Jays Care Community Clubhouse) and his contracts with the Blue Jays included annual donations of $100,000 to Jays Care.
In 2017, Jays Care committed $1 million toward the project at Highview Park (a site selected because of its proximity to Variety Village), with the city covering the difference. Construction began in 2019 and is expected to wrap up this summer.
City council approved the name last week under motion 32.32, in honour of Halladay’s number.
Challenger Baseball is run by Little League Canada, Baseball Canada and Jays Care, which has now financially supported five fully accessible fields in the country. The others are in Vancouver, Ottawa, Quinte, Ont., and Antigonish N.S., helping expand the offerings to a community often faced with barriers to entry.
That’s the part Brandy says would have most appealed to Roy, who would have loved to have his name on any baseball diamond, especially one “that reaches a little further.”
“A legacy isn’t only about what he did as a baseball player. That was his job. It wasn’t all he was. I honestly think the most important part of what he did as an athlete was using his platform to generate awareness about something you care about,” she says. “He cared about people and kids. When he’d talk to young baseball players, he’d always tell them about leaving the game better off and doing things the right way. He wanted to be respected for doing things right off the field, which is why he’d be thrilled about something like this. Baseball isn’t only about kids trying to get drafted. It’s a pastime for all kids and it needs to be an all-inclusive sport. I hope people see that field as a reminder that there’s a place for everyone in baseball.”