the bright lights of the Blue Jays utilitarian clubhouse, with the
background clang of weights punctuating a solemn pre-game murmur, Roy
Doc Halladay looks like a giant. The six-foot-six, 225-pound
fastballer stands half dressed in front of his locker, idly chatting with
a few nearby teammates. But when I approach, he appears to shrink before
my eyes, his shoulders folding away from me. I stop and introduce myself,
at which point he turns, offering a circumspect eye. Didnt
you get a call today? he asks in his gentle midwestern drawl. (Apparently
the Jays media relations person had tried to reschedule our interview
at the last minute.) Before I can respond, the big shoulders shrug, and
he says, I guess youll have to do it now, wont you?
Hardly the behaviour one expects from an all-star baseball
player and winner of last years American League Cy Young Award.
Then again, Halladay isnt your average all-star. Not since Roger
Clemens left Toronto for the Yankees in 1999 have the Jays invested so
much in a right arm, signing Halladay to a hefty $42-million (U.S.) four-year
deal this past winter. But unlike Clemens, a hotheaded grandstander, Halladay
is a shy, humble man. Like the franchise itself, he has had his share
of ups and downs, and as a result, hes developed into the kind of
steady, hard-working pitcher the Jays can build a team around.
Five minutes after our rocky introduction, he joins
me in the dugout and looks out onto the field. SkyDome echoes with the
sound of players beginning their warmup. Its hard to imagine the
building as full as it was back when the Jays last won the World Series,
in 1993. Given the teams mediocre record since then, it was both
a surprise and a relief that the 27-year-old Halladay decided to stay
rather than gamble on more money in a big-market American city. I
love Toronto, he volunteers. Its a situation where I
felt good about the team and good about the city--it was an easy decision
for me. No doubt loyalty was a factor; hes been with the Jays
his entire nine-year career.
Harry Leroy Halladay III was born in 1977 in the Denver
suburb of Arvada. His father flew planes for a food processing company;
his mother stayed home to raise the kids. From an early age, Halladay
gravitated to Americas pastime, and like any kid growing up playing
baseball, he sampled every position on the field. By 14, hed had
so much success on the pitchers mound that he attracted the attention
of major league scouts. In 1995, when he finished high school, he was
picked up by the Jays in the amateur draft. Four seasons in the minors
later, the strapping righty made the team and immediately proved his worth.
In his second game in 1998, he almost tossed a no-hitter--an astonishing
feat for any pitcher (only Dave Stieb has accomplished this as a Blue
Jay), let alone a rookie.
then something happened. Within two years, Halladay began giving away
hits like they were bobbleheads, letting in an average 10 runs a game.
In 2001, he was sent back down to the minors to regain his confidence,
but still he struggled. Finally, in a last-ditch effort to save a quickly
dwindling career, the 24-year-old was shipped to Knoxville, Tennessee,
to work with one-time Jays pitching coach Mel Queen. The problem, Queen
realized, was Halladays total reliance on his strength -- his attempt
to overpower batters with straight-ahead pitches. Within two weeks, Halladay
remade himself, altering his arm angle for a more deceptive delivery and
adding pitches that sank and careened. By mid-season, he was back in the
Jays rotation. It wasnt easy, though; the slump had taken
a mental toll. I had never struggled to that point and didnt
have a very good idea of how to cope with it, he says. Thats
something thats hard to learn.
The lesson in humility has had a lasting effect. Gone
is the youthful brazenness, replaced by a more mature focus and intensity,
and a renewed desire to improve. Even after winning the Cy Young, Halladay
has continued to tinker with his game. (He spent the winter developing
a new pitch -- the change-up.) Off the field, he keeps his
mind occupied with the headiest game around. I got pretty serious
playing chess last year, he says, noting its similarities to baseball.
Whether youre pitching and have a huge lead or youre
playing chess and you think you have it sewn up, you cant let your
That guardedness disappears, however, when the conversation
moves to his family. He breaks into a boyish grin at the mention of his
wife, Brandy, whom he met back in Colorado, and their three-year-old son,
Braden. The family lives in Palm Harbor, Florida, in the off-season, and
in a condo near the SkyDome during the summer months.
By now, Halladays teammates have begun their
stretching routine, and the pitchers attention returns to the field.
I ask what Toronto can expect from him over the next four years. Im
going to compete every time, he says with a determined look. No
matter how bad Im beat or how far we are ahead. With that
he nods and steps out of the dugout. I watch as he settles in shoulder
to shoulder with his teammates, like a kid returning to the street to
play after supper. Beyond all the pressure and the million-dollar contracts,
he embodies the purity of the game. The Jays gentle giant is the
type of player who cuts the often extravagant sport down to size.
© Copyright 2004
Toronto Life Magazine