I remember when I first took serious notice of Roy Halladay. I’d been called up by the Padres to start a few games until Chris Young came back from the DL. Starting…heh, that’s generous. In fact, what I ended up doing was getting my ass kicked. Repeatedly.
My first go round in the majors was a rough one and it shook me all the way to the core. I remember sitting in Petco Park’s home clubhouse at my locker, a canyonous custom wooden alter for player’s equipment that had a parking space for a leather executive chair. I was absently looking up at one of the 18 or so flatscreen monitors that populated the clubhouse’s round ceiling, watching highlights form games around the league. I’d made the reel for giving up a homer to Manny Ramirez in my last public execution themed appearance. As much as I didn’t want to see it, I wanted to see it because it was my first time on ESPN.
Right after I watched Man-Ram put my down-and-away fastball in the sandbox in right center, I watched Roy Halladay strike out 10. I can’t remember who it was against. I just remember watching him work; the intensity in his face; the robotic nature in which he went through hitters; the physics defying break on all his pitches. He was an ace in every sense of the word.
I remember sitting there wanting to be like him so badly. All that talent. All that power.
When I came over to the Blue Jays, I was worried about meeting Roy. Would he be brash, would he be an ego monster? All young players are nervous around star players. It’s like being a private first class bumping into five star general. In my time with the Padres, I eventually got to talk with Hoffman and Peavy, but in time with the Blue Jays, I never lost that nervous and intimidated feeling around Roy.
Roy couldn’t have been more different from the other ace I knew. He carried himself like a soldier. Quiet, focused, intense. All of us knew to stay out of his way. I cannot think of one person I’ve played with who was more focused on work than Roy Halladay. Hell, I can’t even remember HEARING about one person more focused on work. Roy was THE benchmark in baseball for work ethic and it was transparent to everyone in and around the game.
He didn’t do it for show. It wasn’t eye wash and he wasn’t the type of guy to engage in useless bullshit for the sake of how it appeared to people on the outside. He didn’t much care for the opinions of outsiders. Not that any of us could tell.
He was not arrogant. Not one ounce. Even so, he could put out a very cold vibe. So driven was he that you felt ashamed of even being in the same space. He didn’t talk to you. He didn’t ask you how you were. He didn’t invite you to follow his lead. He just showed up before you, left after you, and worked harder than you. Every. Single. Day.
I was surprised when he announced his retirement. Surprised because I couldn’t imagine a man who strove for perfection—and physically had the ability to take hold of it—as badly as he did ever walking away. I should also say that when he threw his perfect game I wasn’t surprised since it seemed a natural conclusion for a man who put in the kind of effort he did.
Yet, I think my surprise does not allow for what I observed in Roy to translate into a non baseball setting. For all that talent he’s too humble, too precise, too efficient to drag out a career that’s crumbling under its own weight.
Roy is a good man, caring, supportive of his family. He worked as hard as he did because he felt he should—because he felt it was the only way he could give back or live up to the gift he’d been given in professional sports. The money, the attention he never seemed to get comfortable with… The irrationality of fans. He broke himself daily to be the best he could be because he felt that not striving to do just that would be an insult to the great blessing of being where he was.
I watched him chase his kids through a bouncy castle during a Jays Family Day event once. Might have been the first time I saw him laugh and smile and say more than 10 words. I watched him greet the terminally ill children he bought lodge seats for, and sign autographs for them. I even watched him sign a box full of baseball’s for my wife’s special needs charity auction—a whole box, unheard of for a veteran like him to do for a rookie.
It’s hard to think I wont watch him pitch again, from whatever recliner, or bar stool, or press box I occupy in the future. But, one things is for sure: regardless of whether he was to keep wearing a jersey or not, I still want to be like him. A great player. A better man.
Best of luck to you Roy, the game will miss you.
Dirk’s next book, Bigger Than The Game, out February 25th. Pre-Order and save 15-25% off the cover price.