Phillies

A celebration of life: Thank you, Roy Halladay

A celebration of life: Thank you, Roy Halladay

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Jimmy Rollins called it a reunion of the most unfortunate kind.

On the very field where he made his memorable Phillies debut in March 2010, Roy Halladay, the pitcher, the man, the teammate, the husband and the father, was remembered Tuesday evening in a moving celebration of life at Spectrum Field a week after he died in a plane crash just a few miles away in the Gulf of Mexico.

Family, friends, fans, former teammates and the young players he coached on two travel teams and down the street at Calvary Christian High School sat in the stands from dugout to dugout — the turnout was estimated at 2,000 — and listened to emotional and heartfelt remembrances from those who knew Halladay best.

Nine people spoke and that was fitting.

Doc always wanted to go the distance.

Chase Utley, a teammate who won Halladay's respect because the two men shared an intense work ethic and competitive spirit, was one of the speakers. He told the story about showing up the first day of spring training at 5:45 a.m., wanting to be the first one through the door so he could send the right message to his teammates, and much to his surprise finding a sweat-soaked Halladay eating breakfast. Halladay had already completed a pre-dawn workout, which, of course, would be followed by the regular team workout a few hours later.

"I knew then and there, this guy was the real deal," Utley said.

Utley spoke from a stage just behind the pitcher's mound. The stage was adorned with flowered numbers — a red 34 for Halladay's time in Philadelphia, a blue 32 for his time in Toronto — and pictures of the future Hall of Famer in both teams' uniforms. Utley closed his remarks by looking out in front of the stage, where Halladay's wife, Brandy, and the couple's two sons, Braden, 17, and Ryan, 13, sat.

"Your dad ...," Utley said.

The stoic second baseman paused and became emotional.

"... was the best teammate I ever played with and the most fierce competitor I've ever seen. I'm sure all your lives you've heard people praise your dad and tell you how proud they were of him. But in the conversations I've had with him, he was more proud of what you guys have accomplished than what he ever accomplished on the field.

"Brandy, Braden and Ryan, thank you for sharing him with us."

Later, after the tribute, Utley talked about speaking directly to the two Halladay boys.

"That was probably the hardest part," he said. "I have two boys myself. It really hit home.

"Roy meant so much to me. He affected me. He made me better as I have evolved as a player and a person."

Braden and Ryan are both young baseball talents. Former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was one of the speakers and he, too, spoke directly to the boys, promising to peek in on their games.

Manuel also recalled managing the National League All-Star team in 2009 and meeting Halladay, the American League All-Star starter that summer. By that time, the Phillies had already had their eyes on Halladay, hoping to swing a trade with the Blue Jays for him.

"You’d look good in a Phillies uniform," Manuel told Halladay that day.

Halladay was in a Phillies uniform the following spring. He made his spring training debut on March 4, 2010, and pitched two perfect innings with three strikeouts against the New York Yankees. Just three of the 24 pitches he threw that day were balls.

Three.

Halladay went on to pitch a perfect game, a playoff no-hitter and win the NL Cy Young award that season. He finished second in the Cy Young race the following season and helped the Phillies win 102 games. His final two seasons with the club were marred by back and shoulder injuries that ended his career.

Halladay pitched his heart out in an excruciating 1-0 playoff loss against St. Louis that ended the Phillies' 102-win season in 2011. He pitched that game against another big, right-hander, Chris Carpenter. The two were former teammates with the Blue Jays, best friends and fishing buddies. Carpenter was one of the speakers Tuesday and he made you laugh and cry.

"Doc texted me after Game 5," Carpenter said. "I was on the bus. He was in front of his locker. There he was, he'd just pitched his heart out and he wanted to congratulate me and wish me luck the rest of the way. He also said, 'I'm looking forward to our fishing trip in Brazil.'"

Carpenter told of how, as young, aspiring players, he and Halladay would fish late at night during spring training and fantasize about one day being as good as Roger Clemens and Pat Hentgen. He talked about fishing trips to South America, how Halladay would bring his glove so he could get his offseason throwing in, and how, on a 100-degree day, Halladay took a dip in the piranha-infested Amazon River.

"Dude, get back in the boat, you’re going to get eaten by something," Carpenter recalled telling a backstroking Halladay.

Carpenter also got to the core of Halladay — the determination, the drive, the persistence — when he talked of his friend's early-career struggles and the demotion from the majors all the way to Single A. That event was the watershed moment in Halladay's career. He changed his pitching mechanics and found a new mindset thanks to his work with sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman.

"When he came back, you could see it in his face and his body language that he was going to dominate," Carpenter said. "He said he would never be that bad again and he became the best of our generation."

Phillies owner John Middleton spoke and said that Halladay transcended sports.

"Knowing Roy is one of the great privileges in my life," Middleton said. "The man made the ballplayer, not the other way around. We all wanted to win for Doc. No one wanted to let him down because we always knew Doc would never let us down."

Dozens of former teammates and officials from two teams were on hand for the tribute. Cliff Lee, Kyle Kendrick, Cole Hamels, Shane Victorino, Ruben Amaro, Rich Dubee, Pat Gillick, David Montgomery, Jose Bautista, Cito Gaston, Brad Lidge and Raul Ibanez were there. Scott Rolen, a Phillie who became a teammate of Halladay's in Toronto, was there. Carlos Ruiz, Halladay's beloved catcher was there. He cried as he spoke about learning of his friend's death.

"Doc will always be in my heart," Ruiz said after the tribute.

George Poulis, the legendary Blue Jays athletic trainer who stretched Halladay's arm before starts, told of a pre-start routine the two shared.

"Before he'd head out to warm up, I'd say, 'Doc, have a good one,'" Poulis said. "If I got distracted working on another player, he would stand there until I said those words."

Poulis paused, fighting back emotion.

"Doc, have a good one," he said. "I will miss you from the bottom of my heart."

Halladay's dad, Roy, spoke beautifully about his son. Brandy spoke for 18 heartbreaking minutes about her husband and how she beat him in billiards on their first date and ping-pong on their second.

"Roy Halladay does not like to lose," she said, a hint of a smile breaking through the tears.

Brandy Halladay urged the mourners to take nothing for granted and to hug their family members tightly. A few minutes later, she looked down at her two sons and spoke of their dad.

"I still get to see him every day because I look at you," she said.

Vince Nauss of Baseball Chapel concluded the tribute with some beautiful words. He also spoke at the celebration of Dallas Green's life back in March. He's one of the best.

Rollins was right, with so many former teammates, coaches and officials from the Phillies on hand, it was like a reunion, albeit a very sad one.

Moments after the tribute concluded, Rollins spoke of learning of Halladay's death in a text message from Ryan Howard, who was also on hand for the service. Rollins grieved and tried to come to terms with the news until finally going to bed at about 1 o'clock that night. His said his wife, Johari, was a little too far over on his side of the bed and gave him a little kick as if to say, "Move over." Jimmy said he wasn't going to move over, not on that night. He felt compelled to move closer to his wife and give her a hug.

"Like Brandy said, hug your family a little tighter," Rollins said.

Nick Williams talks up Phillies to a free-agent Cy Young winner

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Nick Williams talks up Phillies to a free-agent Cy Young winner

It's not clear whether the Phillies will add a starting pitcher before opening day, but surely they would like to.

General manager Matt Klentak “is busting his ass every single day looking for every possible opportunity to upgrade our team from every perspective,” manager Gabe Kapler said on Tuesday. “That includes looking at every option possible for the rotation.”

Klentak has kept a close eye on the trade market, but has found the prices (i.e., the young talent that must be surrendered) for top, controllable starters to be prohibitive.

He has kept a close eye on the free-agent market, but the length of contracts that top pitchers are looking for has given him pause.

For months, the Phillies have distanced themselves from speculation that has connected them to elite level free-agent pitchers Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta.

But with spring training less than a month away and both pitchers still unsigned, the Phillies would at least have to consider both pitchers if their asking prices experience a January thaw.

Six or seven years? No way.

Three years? Hmmm. Let's talk.

The Phillies are hosting a number of their young players this week. Rhys Hoskins, Jerad Eickhoff, Mark Leiter and Nick Williams were all in town on Tuesday.

Williams has set his sights on making the National League All-Star team in 2018.

“That's what I'm shooting for,” he said at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday. “I think I had a pretty good year last year. I'm shooting for more now. I don't think being an All-Star is shooting too high.”

Williams, 24, hit .288 with 12 homers, 55 RBIs and an .811 OPS in 83 games, mostly in right field, with the big club as a rookie last season.

To give himself the best chance of surpassing those numbers — and achieving his goal of making the All-Star team — Williams has spent the offseason in Austin, Texas, working with personal trainer Jeremy Hills, a former University of Texas football player.

Williams is working hard on agility, which will help him in the outfield and on the base paths.

And guess who one of his daily workout partners is?

Free-agent pitcher Jake Arrieta.

Back in Austin, between reps and protein shakes, Williams has occasionally talked up Philadelphia as a potential landing spot to Arrieta, the 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner who will turn 32 in March.

“He loves it here,” Williams said of Arrieta, who, as a free agent and a Scott Boras client, is astute enough not to rule out any team, particularly one as deep-pocketed as the Phillies. “He has told me he likes working with young guys. I'm like, ‘All right, come on up.’ But I'm not writing the check. I don’t know what he wants. I don’t really dig into that because I'm not really in his position.”

Williams smiled.

“I hope to be one day,” he said.

Williams marveled at Arrieta's work ethic in the gym.

And he expressed gratitude for the kindness and generosity Arrieta has showed him.

“He's bought a lot of my protein shakes,” Williams said.

Time will tell if the Phillies add a starting pitcher to the group that already consists of Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and other youngsters. The hunch is they will, though it's unclear what the magnitude of that talent will be. Klentak's search for an arm likely won't stop with the addition of one pitcher and it will likely continue through July. And beyond. The quest to build a championship-caliber staff never stops.

“The pursuit is very real,” Kapler said of Klentak's search for pitching. “I have a lot of trust that we'll either go in [to spring training] with a new toy or we will pass on the opportunity because we're better off giving this collection of pitchers a really healthy look because we thought that we could go acquire that piece a little bit later on this season or in the offseason next year.”

Rhys Hoskins on 'surreal' rookie year, position switch, expectations

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Rhys Hoskins on 'surreal' rookie year, position switch, expectations

For a couple of weeks in August, Rhys Hoskins might have been Philadelphia's most popular athlete. Fans marveled at the nightly power display that the young slugger put on in the middle of the Phillies' batting order. Carson Wentz and the Eagles had not yet begun their magnificent season. Hoskins was the man in town.

It hit him one night after a game. He stopped in Center City for some late-night eats. A man and his young son approached. They offered their congratulations and asked for an autograph.

"That's when I was like, 'OK, this might be something that's about to be part of my life,' " Hoskins said. "But it was cool because I used to be that kid."

Hoskins was back in the area Monday night for the 114th Philadelphia Sports Writers Association Dinner. He was honored with a special achievement award for a torrid major league debut in which he clubbed 18 homers and drove in 48 runs in just 50 games last season.

Hoskins was raised in Sacramento, California but moved to San Diego this offseason. His 18 homers in 2017 were the most ever hit by a player who did not make his season debut until after Aug. 1. Hall of Famer Ted Williams, who hit 13 homers after returning from the Korean War in 1953, was the previous record holder.

Williams was a San Diego native.

"Surreal," Hoskins said of that 50-game stretch last season and the buzz that has followed him into the offseason. "Indescribable."

He is now a recognizable face, a signature talent, in a sports-crazy town.

And he's ready for it.

"Enjoy it," he said. "Take it by storm and enjoy it. It's supposed to be fun and that's probably the best approach to take. I think my thought is what happened may never happen again. Tomorrow something might happen. Tomorrow I might never be able to step on a baseball field again. So I think you have to take it by storm and enjoy it.

"If you had asked me a year ago if I would be walking down the streets of Philadelphia and would people recognize me I'd probably laugh at you. But that’s where we are now.

"It's just a testament to how passionate the people of Philadelphia are and how much they love their sports."

Hoskins will report to Clearwater for spring training at the end of this month. He wants to get a head start so he can ramp up his workouts in left field. A first baseman by trade, he began playing the position occasionally last season. He will move there full-time in 2018 as newly signed Carlos Santana takes over at first base.

Hoskins got a 30-game taste of left field last year. He is OK with the move.

"Having Carlos is exciting for the city and exciting for the team," Hoskins said. "We add a guy who has proven himself in this league for five or six years at a very high level so to kind of insert that into the lineup and into the clubhouse, especially with such a young team — I think we're going to feel that exponentially throughout the year.

"Left field is a challenge. It's a challenge that I'm definitely excited about. I started to feel more comfortable out there toward the end of the year.

"I think I can be just fine out there. I'm not necessarily going to be a Gold Glover. I just don’t have the speed that some guys out there do, especially in today's game. But I think I'll be just fine and contribute to the team defensively as much as I can and make the plays that I'm supposed to."

Hoskins will turn 25 on March 17. He projects to bat cleanup in new manager Gabe Kapler's lineup.

"He's energized, intense and thorough," Hoskins said of the new skipper. "He can captivate a room. I'm curious to see how that dynamic works in the clubhouse. I think he's going to be a pretty exciting guy to work with."