So today has been a little overwhelming. On Twitter, in particular, it’s been tough sledding. My feed has, understandably, been full of so much grief, so many poignant thoughts, and so many beautiful memories that it would be nearly impossible to share them all here. Roy Halladay was legitimately an all-time great pitcher, an all-time great Blue Jay. He was also by all accounts a great teammate, a great father, and a man who seemed to have a real zeal for his post-baseball life. This one hit hard and close to home on too, too many levels.
There’s been so much to process and so much that could be said today, that I’ve genuinely been finding it difficult to say anything at all. Not unlike a lot of you that have found your way to this little corner of the internet, I’m sure, I’ve gone a bit numb.
That’s because for a whole lot of us, especially around here, Roy Halladay was more than just an ordinary superstar pitcher and franchise icon. He was… well… this:
I didn’t use this as the main image of this post, because I was afraid that people might get the wrong idea, or think it disrespectful. It’s far from it. For those of you who don’t recognize it, this is the exceptionally crude MS Paint image I’d use in the early days of Drunk Jays Fans just about any time Halladay pitched.
Like a cybernetic organism, the joke went, Halladay was consistent, relentless, indestructible. His personality, always much more serious than the man we got to know through social media over the last couple years, fit perfectly with the goof. For a previous generation of Jays fans Tom Henke had been called “the Terminator,” but for those of us whose love of baseball was born, or slowly rekindled, in the decade-and-a-half after the 1994 strike, Halladay was one.
And he was ours.
But what I didn’t really think of so much then, yet is plain to me now on an awful day like this, was that what was special about all that was that it meant there was an us.
I don’t want to overstate the depths to which the Blue Jays’ brand had sunk by the mid-2000s, but after the strike, the Gord Ash years, the cost-cutting early in J.P. Ricciardi’s tenure, and the departure of Carlos Delgado after 2004, there wasn’t a lot left to cling to. The team was always looking up at the free-spending Yankees and Red Sox, Vernon Wells and Alex Rios never quite lived up to their potential, the team played in ass-ugly uniforms and tried desperately to remind fans of better days with promotions like Flashback Fridays, meanwhile papering the house with $81 Toronto Star passes and fist-flyin’ Toonie Tuesdays. Sure, there were always fans, there were some good years and fine players, and the club — with apologies to the Great Ted Rogers Myth — wasn’t going anywhere. But some of those seasons felt awfully pointless, even at the best of times.
Yet there was always Roy Halladay.
And there were people out there, it turned out, who cared as much as you did.
Parkes and I started DJF at the very end of 2006. Batter’s Box was already around then, and if others weren’t there already, it wasn’t long before there was also Ghostrunner On First, the Tao of Stieb, Hum and Chuck, Bluebird Banter, the Mockingbird, John Brattain (RIP), Brad Fullmer Fan, the Smasher, Ari, Karen, RADAR, Captain Latte, Burrows, the Grumpy Owl, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on.
Obviously the whole fan base didn’t grow from there — far from it — but suddenly there was a big group of dedicated and intelligent fans, over multiple sites, with unique, strong voices, from places far and wide, who were writing and thinking and reading and talking and sharing their passion for the Blue Jays in new and exciting ways. Suddenly we were connecting with other communities in other cities, too. This was the start of our little corner of what is now an enormous, global community of fans — the community whose grief spilled so raw and so real onto my timeline today. And for the Blue Jays fans who were there in those years, so much of what we rallied around, and what made it worth even watching our team at all — in other words, so much of what brought us all together, and would ultimately bring so many of us to jobs and loves and lifelong friends — was the presence, and the greatness, of Roy Halladay.
I don’t know if that’s the right takeaway from a day like this, but you all know the on-field exploits anyway, and don’t need me to dive into boring stats or rehash your own memories for you. You don’t need me to tell you about Halladay’s humility, his dedication to his family, and all the incredible stuff about him that makes this such a genuine tragedy. What I can tell you that’s unique, though, is that in a very personal and very real way, I honestly don’t know where my life would be right now without the strange journey that began in those years, and with those teams that he was so absolutely central to.
So that’s where my head is at tonight. Feeling for and thinking not just about Roy and his family and his teammates and friends, but how grateful I am for the years when he was here. What he gave to me, and to so many baseball fans in Toronto and in Canada, and to Blue Jays fans around the world, was so much bigger than can be boiled down to individual games or individual moments on the field. At a time when we badly needed a reason to fall in love with the sport, he made baseball truly worth watching. I can hardly think of a better gift than that.
Rest in peace, Doc.