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November 07, 2017

On the night of Roy Halladay's untimely passing, the collective heart of the Phillies family breaks


That’s what it felt like and there was no way around it on a night when the sun set over an hour earlier than it had a week ago, on Halloween, and when a teeming rain fell outside Citizens Bank Park on an early autumn evening that finally felt like winter was around the corner.

Cole Hamels had pitched through such weather, memorably, and so fighting the elements and the rush-hour traffic to get to a ballpark he hasn’t called home for nearly 2 1/2 years wasn’t an annoyance. It probably felt more like an obligation.

Not only to the man he called a mentor, someone who would help both shape his baseball career and the balance between being a professional athlete and a father. But also to all of the other men that walked through those doors in the South Philadelphia Sports Complex over the last decade, players young and old equally impacted by one of the greatest pitchers of his generation.

Harry Leroy “Roy” Halladay passed away on Tuesday afternoon after a plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico, the Pasco County (Fla.) Sheriff’s department announced.

Halladay was the only person aboard the single-small engine aircraft. Along with spending time with his family during his four years since announcing his retirement, and coaching his sons’ baseball teams, Halladay, the son of a pilot, had made flying a regular hobby.

Halladay, who spent four of his 16 big league seasons with the Phillies, was 40-years old. He leaves behind his wife of 19 years, Brandy, who grew up in the same Colorado town as Halladay, and the couple’s two sons, Braden and Ryan.

“He is a tremendous person who is going to be missed,” said Hamels, Halladay’s former teammate who currently plays for the Texas Rangers but maintains an offseason home in Glen Mills.

“It’s very, very unfortunate,” Hamels continued. “Especially for somebody that’s touched my life, my teammates’ lives, these fans. … When he came into that clubhouse, he really assured us that we could be a dominant pitching staff. We did. For me, that's what taught me how to bring my game up to the next level. ... I have two boys of my own. And I got to see what that meant to him, every time he was able to bring them around the ballpark. That was something that really did leave an impression. Hopefully I’ll be able to do what he was able to do for his boys."

Hamels and Phillies chairman David Montgomery were made available at the ballpark a little more than two hours after the tragic news spread across Philadelphia and the baseball world at large. Halladay, an eight-time All-Star and two-time Cy Young Award winner who pitched one of 23 perfect games in baseball history and one of only two postseason no-hitters, entered a Phillies clubhouse for the first time in the spring of 2010 and, despite joining a team that included a who’s who of fellow stars who had just played in back-to-back World Series, immediately commanded respect for his reputation as both one of the game’s best pitchers and a leader with an unparalleled work ethic.

Halladay joined the team again this spring as a roving instructor, helping Phillies pitchers in spring training and prospects sporadically through the summer, too. Both parties were hopeful for a more permanent role in the future.

“It's a sad day for the Phillies organization and a sad day for major league baseball, but it pales in comparison to our thoughts and prayers for Brandy, Braden and Ryan right now,” Montgomery said. “He certainly would have given more to baseball in the future because of his love for the game. But his commitment to his family kept him where he was the last few years.

"We'd had a number of conversations about his potential future in the game. But he just would say, 'I want it, but it's on hold. It's on hold right now because of my family.’ … This is his family's loss first, the Phillies loss and baseball's loss as well. All-Star pitcher, All-Star person, and All-Star father and family man that we lost today.”

While Hamels and Montgomery shared their thoughts at the very place Halladay had made so many memories, including a no-hitter in the first postseason game of his storied career, an outpouring of remembrances poured in from fellow former Phillies teammates and others throughout baseball in the few short hours since the news broke on Tuesday.

Carlos Ruiz, Halladay’s long-time battery mate, had not heard the news on Tuesday afternoon in Panama when his agent Mark Kligman called him. Kligman passed on Ruiz’s thoughts via Twitter:

“When I got the phone call and heard the news about Roy I was truly devastated. Roy was one of the greatest pitchers I ever caught and an even better person and friend. I wanted to win more for him than myself. I will miss him very much. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones and all those, like me, who truly admired him.”

Chase Utley is perhaps the position player embodiment of Halladay, someone with an intense, unforgiving style of play and pregame preparation that put others in the dust. It’s not surprising, then, that Utley was arguably Halladay’s favorite player in the game.

Utley passed along his condolences on Tuesday through Instagram:

“My heart hurts writing this. I can still remember the first day we met. It was 5:45 a.m. on the first day of spring training when I arrived. He was finishing his breakfast but his clothes were soaking wet. I asked if it was raining when he got in. He laughed and said, ‘No, I just finished my workout.’ I knew right then – he was the real deal. Thank you, Roy for allowing us to witness what it takes to be the best. We will all miss you.”

And then there was Brad Lidge, who has known Halladay probably longer than anyone else in baseball. Both pitchers grew up in the Denver suburbs: Lidge’s Cherry Creek High School team matched up against Halladay’s Arvada West in the state playoffs in 1995, when both were high school seniors.

“Heartbroken - Roy was always the guy I looked up to in Little League, in high school, in the bigs,” Lidge tweeted. “So lucky to have been his teammate. Incredible husband, incredible dad, we will miss you Doc!”

Scott Rolen never played an inning behind Halladay in Philadelphia. But the former Phillies Rookie of the Year was in Toronto with Halladay for two seasons.

“I’m sick right now,” Rolen said in a statement. “Doc was as driven a human being as I’d ever met in my life.  I’m hurting for his family and friends.  We all lost a good man.”

And there were Phillies all-time winningest manager Charlie Manuel, former pitching coach Rich Dubee, former general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., and former teammate Raul Ibanez, too.

“Roy was the best competitor I’d ever seen and it was an honor to have managed him,” Manuel said. “He was not only a great pitcher, but also a great person and a tremendous father.  His contributions to the Phillies can’t be measured.  Roy was like a brother to me and we remained close after his playing days.  I’m heartbroken for Brandy and the boys.”

“Roy was a guy with great character and determination and a passion to be the best,” Dubee said. “Despite coming here as one of the most established pitchers in the game, he never wanted to stop getting better.  My thoughts are with Brandy, Braden and Ryan right now.”

“Roy Halladay was most accountable and hardest-working athlete I’d ever been around and while he was the fiercest competitor on the mound, he was also the kindest and most gentle person I’ve ever known,” Amaro said. “My heart goes out to Brandy, Braden and Ryan.”

“I am deeply saddened and absolutely devastated by the tragic loss of Roy Halladay,” Ibanez said. “Doc was the best pitcher I ever had the privilege of sharing the field with as his preparation, consistency, passion, drive and excellence on the field was unmatched.  He was a dominant force on the mound every fifth day and he made all of us better without having to say a word.  Doc was a tremendous teammate who never sought out the spotlight, rather he let his greatness on the field do the talking for him.  He cared about winning and being the best player and teammate possible.  His career accolades speak for themselves but what I most admired about him was his love for his family and his children.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family during this incredibly difficult time.”

On a day when words were almost impossible to come by, the Phillies family was able to commemorate a man who brought his very best to the ballpark each day. Roy Halladay gave them all the gift of friendship and leadership.

The least they could do was find any way to honor the man they called ‘Doc’ in the hours after his untimely, incredibly premature death.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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