CLEARWATER — It would have been a great day for a baseball game.
The Spectrum Field grounds crew did its job. The basepaths were watered down with a hose. The baselines were drawn in chalk. The batter’s box was laid out. Home plate was cleaned. First, second and third base were made shiny and white.
But it also set up a hundred folding chairs between home plate and the pitcher’s mound where Roy Halladay once worked, and worked, for the Philadelphia Phillies.
There was a small stage. There were photos of Halladay from his days with the Phillies and the Toronto Blue Jays, next to the floral arrangements. Halladay’s jersey numbers, 34 and 32, were stenciled on the mound.
The life of Roy Halladay — "Doc" to the baseball world — was celebrated Tuesday afternoon, by his wife, Brandy, and his sons, 17-year-old Braden and 13-year-old Ryan, and by family and friends. And by dozens of famous ballplayers. And by fans in the crowd of more than 1,000 at the memorial, most of whom never met Halladay, 40, who died last Tuesday when the plane he piloted crashed in the Gulf of Mexico off the Pasco County coast.
A loving husband and father. That’s what you kept hearing about Roy Halladay after his death. There were his baseball numbers, 203 wins and his two Cy Young Awards. It made him rich. He wanted to fly planes, like his father, to soar.
But somehow Halladay came off like everyone else. "A normal guy." You heard that again and again. Halladay blended into this community after he retired from baseball in 2013. He lived in Odessa. He coached at his sons’ baseball games, quiet, humble, but focused, like in his playing days. Roy Halladay, by all accounts, was very good at being normal.
"He wasn’t Roy Halladay the pitching star. He was just Roy, my friend, my mentor," said Nolan Hudi, a left-handed pitching star for Calvary Christian High School in Clearwater. Halladay was a volunteer assistant coach at Calvary Christian, which last season won the Class 4A state title. Braden Halladay pitches for the team.
"Our players love him not because he’s a Hall of Famer," Calvary Christian coach Greg Olsen said. "They love him because he loved them."
Hudi first went flying with Halladay just three days before Halladay died in the same two-seat, single-propeller ICON 5 airplane. The ICON 5 can land on water.
"We took off from the pond behind their house," Hudi said. "We stopped to get gas. We landed on a runway, took off from a runway, then over the water. Flying with him, there are only a few times I saw Roy as happy. The look that I saw on his face was something else. That was passion. It was incredible. We talked about baseball, life, everything. That was the last time I got to talk to Roy. He was more than a coach. He was family."
There were moving tributes from those who spoke Tuesday. Hudi and his Calvary teammates sat in their baseball jerseys behind the third base dugout. Also present were players from the Clearwater Burn, a summer travel team Halladay coached.
Through her tears, Brandy Halladay spoke beautiful words about her husband. She looked at her boys.
"Best of all, I still get to see him every day, because I look at you."
Hudi, a junior, helped pitch Calvary Christian to the state title last season, including winning his start in the state semifinals. His friend, Braden Halladay, finished the game. Hudi loves the Halladay family.
"And I have immense love for Roy," Hudi said. "He’s in heaven. I know that. I’m just excited that I’ll see my friend again one day."
After the celebration, the folding chairs were put away. A tarp was placed on the pitcher’s mound. The outfield sprinklers came on.
It would have been a great day for a baseball game.