DUNEDIN, Fla. – Then, one day, there’s an orthodontist appointment. Or a baseball practice. Some homework to get to. Christmas comes and goes, and the junior national team from up north calls and says come play with us and, then, one day, on a warm Saturday afternoon four months later, you’re standing on the baseball field, on the very mound, where your father chipped away at his greatness. Now you seek your own. Same business. Same last name. Same dreams. Unique path.
His name is Braden Halladay, Roy and Brandy’s eldest. He is 17, a junior at his Florida high school, a Penn State commit, and a rangy wisp of a right-handed pitcher. His eyes smile. There’s room in his red jersey, most of it behind the blue “CANADA” on his chest. The junior national team’s roster has him at 6-foot-3 and 150 pounds, which looks about right. If first impressions count, Braden seems a happy kid, self-aware, bright and quick to laugh, sometimes at himself.
Asked for a scouting report on one Braden Halladay, he smiled and said, “Projectable, considering I probably weigh the least out of anyone on the team.” Maybe there’s been some progress; it appeared his red belt had recently been let out a notch.
Then, about growing up near the game, Braden recalled his favorites, men such as Vernon Wells (“Awesome”) and Gregg Zaun (“Always cool”) and Frank Catalanotto (“Insanely cool”), adding there was a drawback to all that big-league exposure: “I remember my first day at T-ball I was asking where the locker rooms were and where the bullpen is.”
He is a child of the game and the son of one of the finest pitchers of a generation, along with, for 17 years, that man’s pupil, that man’s pal, that man’s sunshine. By the end, that man’s throwing partner. That’s where it gets a little sad, of course. His father died on that gulf out there some four months ago. Braden has been putting one day after another since, like his mom, like his little brother Ryan, like anyone who’d never considered there could be a day like Nov. 7.
If you have any heart at all, you wonder what it must feel like for Braden to walk into this place again, see all those Blue Jays jerseys, where they wear his name across their backs, all those friends of dad’s. For Brandy to sit in the grandstand, watching a skinny right-hander she loves commence a familiar windup. Maybe there are hardly enough days for that. Maybe these are the best of those days. Maybe this is where the peace is.
Canada’s national junior team is in town, as it is every spring. It plays an annual game against the Blue Jays. This year the 17- and 18-year-olds got Marcus Stroman for two innings, along with a lineup that presented the sons of Craig Biggio, Dante Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero, Dwight Smith, Mark Grudzielanek and Roger Clemens. A children’s chorus squeaked out both national anthems, and it was lovely. The ballpark held a few thousand people, some in green, most in blue. The game was televised back to Canada.
Braden was born in Toronto in the summer of 2000. When Braden was 3, his father won 22 games for the Blue Jays and the first of his two Cy Young Awards. The Halladays remained in Toronto until Braden was 9. Roy won 148 games there. Braden recalled loving the city, loving the people in it. He thinks of Toronto as his hometown, the place where baseball came into view, where he was carried home some nights in the arms of hardball greatness.
The Blue Jays will retire Roy’s No. 32 on opening day in Toronto. In the meantime, they’d host Roy’s boy. In the eighth inning, he jogged from the left-field bullpen to the mound. Those who recognized him, more than you’d think, cheered. As he reached the rubber, an announcement: “Now on to pitch, No. 16, Braden Halladay.” The people stood and applauded through Braden’s warmup pitches, through the practiced, polished delivery, calm and easy, yep that’s Roy’s boy.
(Three years ago, as a high school freshman, he was assigned No. 16. Actually, he said, he was running late on the day they handed out jerseys, “And 16 was the last number there.” As a result, one of his favorite pitchers became Jose Fernandez. Now he wears 16 on every team he pitches for.)
He pitched a one-two-three eighth, leaning on a fastball that touched 85 and stayed out of the middle of the plate, feathering in a confident and reliable curveball. One of those curveballs got Bo Bichette to ground to shortstop, ending the inning, and the crowd howled as though invested in that kid. The fans had seen what they’d come to see, and that was a little of what was left behind by Roy. The young man. The son. The brother. The pitcher. Even the student.
“At least from my perspective, he knows everything about everything as far as pitching goes,” Braden had said before his outing. “So, from a pitching standpoint, it was everything I could have asked for and more. Especially now, every time I make mistakes, I still hear him drilling me about it in my head, because he’s done it so many times before. From a mindset standpoint, I don’t think, with any bias, I could have had a better teacher. … To get it passed down for me, I couldn’t have asked for better.
“To him, every opportunity was, like, ‘It’s great that you got it but now you have to prove it.’ Obviously, he’d be really excited about the opportunity but he’d still be drilling me as if it were a summer travel ball game or a high school game. It’s the same thing. Prepare the right way. Don’t throw 80-mph pitches right over the middle of the plate. Things like that.”
He smiled. It looked like a good day, what with all the hellos, the people who called his name, the Blue Jays coach who patted him on the head and then pulled him in for a hug, the curveball that behaved, mom up there in the stands. A good day. Yep, a really good day.
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