Phillies

Remembering what mattered most to Roy Halladay

I was there for the perfect game. I was there for the postseason no-hitter. I was there on that night when the Phillies clinched the division title in 2010 — his Cy Young season in Philadelphia — and he finally got to experience the euphoria of a champagne celebration. I was there when he pitched so valiantly and left a piece of his soul on the mound at Citizens Bank Park the night the 102-win season came to a crushing conclusion in a 1-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. I was there the night he walked off the mound in Miami for the last time in September 2013, his wounded right shoulder turned to spaghetti after pitching 15 seasons in the majors and reaching 220 innings eight times.

I saw all of Roy Halladay's highs and lows during his four seasons as a Phillie.

And, yet, my favorite memory of the man who left this world way too soon on Tuesday did not even happen in a game.

It happened in July 2011 during a memorable series at Wrigley Field. Halladay pitched the series opener on a Monday night and was forced to leave the game after the fourth inning because of dehydration. It was a scary scene. Wrigley Field was a pizza oven that night and Roy couldn't fight off the heat. At one point, it looked like he would pass out. He needed intravenous after the game. The next day, to the surprise of many, he pronounced himself fine and said he would be ready to make his next start. To prove it, he was the first one on the field Wednesday morning, ready to throw his between-starts bullpen sessions.

Halladay approached those between-starts bullpen sessions the way a surgeon approaches his work in the operating room. The expression "all business" does not even do it justice. No one got in his way. Nothing pierced his concentration. He would finish those sessions and walk straight to the training room for stretching and ice. It was all part of his almost robotic routine and anyone who got in his way would feel the sting of his icy glare.

But there were exceptions.

Roy Halladay had a huge competitor's heart. He also had a good heart and a soft spot for kids.

As Halladay went through his bullpen routine that Wednesday morning in Chicago, a tour group made its way through the stands. As the tour leader talked about the old ballpark, the group of fans couldn't help but rubberneck Halladay's work in the bullpen. Halladay finished the bullpen session, threw a towel over his shoulder and, still in the zone, started walking purposefully back to the dugout with pitching coach Rich Dubee. As Halladay got to the top step of the dugout and was about to disappear up the tunnel to the clubhouse, a young boy broke away from the tour group and shouted, "Roy!" Halladay stopped, looked around and saw the boy running his way. The pitcher waited for the boy to arrive at the dugout. He wiped sweat from his forearms and signed the kid's baseball. The boy looked for a moment at the prized autograph, then ran through the stands at empty Wrigley Field and rejoined the group. The kid got a lot more than a tour of the Friendly Confines that day.

That one moment with a kid in an empty ballpark in Chicago spoke volumes about Roy Halladay. He was always willing to make a kid's day. He was always willing to share a piece of himself with a young person who wanted to touch his greatness or learn from it. We saw it time and time again in Philadelphia. He took Kyle Kendrick under his wing. He bonded with Carlos Ruiz. He guided Cole Hamels.

"In order to be great at something, you have to have mentors, and he was one for me," the heartbroken Hamels said Tuesday night, just a few hours after learning of his friend's death in a plane crash at the way-too-young age of 40. "He made you push to a level that you didn't think you could reach. He raised my bar."

Guys like Kendrick, Ruiz and Hamels revered Halladay. He gave them so much and they wanted to give back to him. After the Phillies won the division in 2011, Ruiz said, "Gotta get Doc a ring." It didn't work out, of course. But not having a World Series ring did not diminish Halladay's career at all and he knew that. Yes, he pushed for a trade from Toronto to Philadelphia because he saw it as a way to put a World Series ring on his finger. But if you listened closely to Doc during his four seasons here, you know that he prioritized "enjoying the journey" more than anything — and he had quite a journey.

Most recently, his journey had taken him to the skies and to a tragic and unfathomable end, but his baseball journey had continued. He spent the spring and summer working part-time in the Phillies’ organization, mentoring young minor-league pitchers on the science of gaining a mental edge. He was also the proud pitching coach at Calvary Christian High School, just down the road from the Phillies’ ballpark in Clearwater, and he was coaching another youth team, as well. Back in March, he beamed as he talked about coaching those two teams. His sons, Braden and Ryan, were players on those teams and Roy was loving the time he got to spend with them around the game he loved so much.

Fathers ... sons ... baseball.

Gulp.

Man, there are so many reasons why this is difficult. So, so many. Roy Halladay's affinity and commitment to helping youngsters, from Little Leaguers to professionals, is a big one. The guy was always generous with his time and expertise and that will be missed.

So what is Roy Halladay's legacy? Cooperstown? Oh, yeah. That will happen. But his real legacy is still out there, and in some cases it's still developing. The guy touched a lot of young lives through baseball and surely some of those young lives will do great things with the lessons he imparted. I was there for the no-hitters and the other memorable moments of Roy Halladay's time in Philadelphia. But I'll remember most how much the kids always mattered to him.