American League

Halladay Memory

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Nobody has this story.

The best stories are never about numbers. They are about real people with real character.

I usually never write about myself or include the dreaded ‘I’ in any formal writing. In this case, as we mark Roy Halladay’s career during the Toronto Blue Jays’ home opener, I feel it’s important to express my feelings as personal. I have heard many fans express their admiration for the Colorado-native’s incredible talents on the mound. I have also heard many stories from people who met the dominant righty with less than favourable reviews regarding how a pitcher should speak to new talent and how to prepare for a game. I cannot speak to the latter way of thinking. I was never a rising star in the majors. I can only speak of my own experience with the eight-time All-Star.

Years ago, a few months after Halladay took a hit off of his leg and was injured, a few friends and I went to Toronto to see the Blue Jays play the Cleveland Indians. It was my birthday, so I was in great spirits to see my favourite game in person. I was finishing university and looking forward to a new time in my life. We turned off of Spadina Avenue, but it looked like our usual parking lot was full, so we headed down a ramp across the road from our destination.

Something was odd about the fact that this ramp had guards using mirrors to look under the van my friend was driving, but we figured that maybe it was just amped up security. Maybe there was a bomb threat. Maybe Hussein or bin Laden had money on the Orioles winning the pennant (very unlikely). At the time, we thought nothing more about it.

Or so we tried. We started noticing that all of the vehicles around our parked escort had an official Blue Jays symbol on the license plates. One member of our mischievous band was aware of one of the vehicles belonging to Vernon Wells (I never asked how he knew that). After pondering for some minutes, we laughed it off, thinking that maybe we parked where the players parked. It was not like they were sitting in their cars at the moment, so we proceeded to the game.

The outcome of the game became a mere trifle compared to what followed. As we made our way back to the van, we noticed someone approaching an ivory-coloured Escalade who looked very familiar. It was Roy Halladay. “He must have been doing rehab on his leg at the ‘Dome!” we said to each other. The bravest of our lot, which was not me, approached the Cy Young Award winner and asked to shake his head. We were not there to bother him or guilt him to sign any autographs. For me, it was the chance to end my birthday with the best possible result: being able to meet one of the best pitchers in baseball.

His response to our initial encounter was not what we expected. “You can’t be down here. You guys gotta leave.” No anger did he display. Looking back, it was more of confusion and shock.

Try telling that to five guys who think they were just shot down by one of their baseball heroes. At first, we apologized for our rudeness. As we watched him drive up the parking ramp and we boarded the van, we could not help but feel slighted. We didn’t do anything wrong, Roy. They let us park down here. We then proceeded to do what any man would do if he was jilted: mock the offender mercilessly like small children. We took pleasure in our defence mechanisms as we then drove up the parking ramp, only to find Halladay parked near the entrance, talking to someone.

Apparently our insecurity was not satisfied, because we decided to pull over across from him. The courageous fan from before threw open the van door and, to put it mildly, aggressively explained how we were allowed by the parking staff to be down there and that maybe his attitude to strangers should change or else karma may find a way to his healthy leg.

We drove off quickly, chuckling in our absurd confidence that we scored a victory for justice. As we turned onto Lake Shore Boulevard, we were startled as our driver noticed an ivory Escalade racing up to our position. We all turned around and started howling with laughter and an edge of nervousness. What’s he doing? Is Roy Halladay really chasing us through the streets of Toronto? What do we do? Do we fight him? NO! Everyone who recognizes him would kill us!

My friend drove as fast as he could, weaving through lanes of heavy traffic, until finally we felt safe that we lost him. The chuckling resumed after that bout of tension. That is, until we stopped at a red light and I looked to my left to see the Escalade pull up right beside us, slowly, as if it was stalking us in the urban jungle.

The Escalade’s right window lowered and my friend said Halladay was motioning us to wind our windows down. Alright. This is it. If he decides to get out of the car, we may be doomed. Do we goon him? Or do we race up the shoulder through the red light?

“Are you guys the guys from the parking lot?”

“Uhh… yes?”

And lo, did we ever get the greatest apology a professional millionaire could give a group of middle-class nobodys. He expressed his sincere regrets as he was verbally assaulted and accosted by a fan in the parking lot the year before. Seeing a group of men approaching him with an injured leg in an underground parking lot freaked him out and brought back memories. Halladay felt bad about it and said he felt worse after finding out that we did have a right to be down there.

“No worries, Roy. No hard feelings. We want you to come back soon,” and other adulating remarks spewed from our mouths, once our faith in the Blue Jays ace was restored. He smiled and waved as he drove in one direction and we went our way back onto the Gardiner Expressway.

Think what you like about this story. I really do not care if you think it is more fancy than fact. We who were there remember it and support the truth. Think what you will about the story, whether it was a man trying to do right by his deserving (or undeserving fans) or if it was merely an attempt to keep a public persona in tact. The reality is that Roy Halladay took the time to make sure we left Toronto feeling good to be rooting for him and the Blue Jays. How many professional athletes would do the same? A-Rod? Bonds? Clemens? Anyone?

Thank you, Roy. You did a lot for the Jays organization. One of the last memories people have of you is the no-hitter in the postseason for the Philadelphia Phillies. That never even enters my head. Whenever I hear the name Roy Halladay, I remember the man who humbled himself enough to make the end of my birthday perfect.

About Brandon Nickel

A family man from Ontario, who has seen many a baseball game. I have my finger on the pulse of the sport in Canada and the United States. I'm here to give you honesty, whether you like it or not. Let's have fun, but let's be real! @BrookerHaas @MLBN_BlueJays

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