Roy Halladay remembered and celebrated in ballpark service

CLEARWATER, Fla. — They mowed the grass, watered the dirt, and placed the black-trimmed stage behind the mound at Spectrum Field. They etched Roy Halladay’s uniform numbers — 34 and 32 — on the dirt slope. They placed a single baseball there. They laid chalk on the baselines and whitened home plate and drew a batter’s box. The wind blew out to right field.

The reunion Tuesday was not in white pinstripes but in dark-toned suits. There they were — Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, and Cliff Lee. Carlos Ruiz and Shane Victorino. Brad Lidge and Raul Ibanez. Some wore sunglasses even as the stadium lights illuminated because the lenses hid their red eyes because the greatest pitcher of their generation died in a plane crash a week earlier.

They thought about Braden and Ryan, the two teenage sons the best pitcher of their generation left behind; the two boys who play baseball and were the first to step onto the grass for the memorial service inside a ballpark.

Their mother spoke on that stage, bookended by two wreaths and two photos of her husband, for 18 heart-wrenching minutes. She spoke about love, about loss. About fathers and sons and baseball. In the last minute, she looked at her boys. They were 10 feet from the mound.

“Best of all,” Brandy Halladay said, “I still get to see him every day because I look at you.”

There was a standing ovation. Brandy put an arm around Braden, 17. She hugged Ryan, 13. The boys’ baseball teammates sat in the stands behind the home dugout, part of a crowd of about 2,000 who memorialized Halladay as so much more than a stoic right-hander.

“Your dad was the best teammate I ever played with,” Utley said to the boys. “The most fierce competitor I have 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 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.”

Utley, the Phillies great and father of his own two boys, became emotional on the stage as he addressed Braden and Ryan. Tasked with public speaking, an assignment he abhors, Utley began to prepare his speech last weekend. That moment was the hardest part.

“You try to keep it together,” Utley said afterward. “As a baseball player, as an athlete in general, you physically prepare for everything. This is something you can’t ever prepare for.”

Ruiz remembered how it was gloomy in Panama the morning of Halladay’s death. He took a midday nap. His agent called and prepared him for bad news. “Right there,” Ruiz said Tuesday as he cried, “I felt something in my body.” The ace pitcher was so special to the catcher.

“He’s always going to be in my heart, Ruiz said. “Always.”

Rollins, on the night of Halladay’s death, thought about the minor inconveniences of retired life — like the temperature of the bedroom.

“It hit me that their sons don’t have their dad coming through the door and hearing his voice,” Rollins, the father of three girls, said. “That’s when it really got heavy and I realized how fortunate we all are.”

The memorial service lasted 90 minutes. Halladay’s father, Roy Jr., spoke about how his son ran to third base — not first — after his first Little League hit. J.P. Ricciardi, the former general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, read aloud an affectionate letter he wrote to Halladay. Chris Carpenter told an epic story about the time he swam in the Amazon River with his best friend in baseball, Roy Halladay.

Charlie Manuel and Cole Hamels spoke. John Middleton, the Phillies’ owner, fought through tears to finish his speech. George Poulis, the Blue Jays’ athletic trainer, toasted Halladay as he would before every start he made: “Doc, have a good one.”

The celebration of Halladay’s life moved later at night to the Phillies’ minor-league complex, where family and friends and old teammates reminisced. There is a room at the Carpenter Complex that has remained locked for a week. Room 211. The placard on the door: “Roy Halladay, mental skills coach.” Below was his cellphone number, a memorial to Halladay’s generous devotion to giving back.

As Brandy Halladay deviated from her 12 pages of prepared words, she cried and laughed. She was prepared for this, she said, because she stood for 21 years next to a man who captivated people. She joked about the monotony of retirement as a baseball wife, then cherished everything her husband provided.

“We had a huge life,” she said. “We made this beautiful family. And we kept going. No matter what. We never stopped. It’s just what we did. It’s what we do in baseball, and it’s what we’re going to keep doing.”

As she spoke, the wind started to blow in, toward home plate. A pitcher’s wind.

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(c)2017 The Philadelphia Inquirer

Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at www.philly.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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