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.
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.