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Calvary Christian baseball team opens title defense with heavy hearts

Expectations are high for the Warriors, who went undefeated a year ago. But the players are still dealing with the death of Roy Halladay, who was a volunteer assistant coach with the team.
Braden Halladay (16) gathers with his teammates before their first game of the season against Lakeland Christian on Tuesday, Feb. 20. (LANCE ROTHSTEIN | Special to The Times)
Published Feb. 22, 2018

CLEARWATER — Braden Halladay admits there will be some emotions when he takes the mound Friday for his first start of the season. How can there not be?

His father, Roy, won't be watching.

Roy Halladay, one of the best Major League Baseball pitchers of his era, died in a plane crash off the Pasco County coast on Nov. 8. He was an assistant coach at Calvary Christian last season, which was Braden's first year on varsity.

That team went 30-0 and won the Class 4A state championship, the school's first state title in any sport. Braden got to share it all with his father, who was in the dugout for every pitch.

Braden admits there have been some dark days since his father's death.

"Baseball is my stress reliever," he said. "There were things that were hard for me to do, but baseball makes everything right in the world again."
His world was shattered the day of the crash. There are no words in a time like that. But his teammates tried.

"Obviously, when something like that happens you're going to get a support group," Braden said. "But the support from these guys is pretty special. And it's not just three guys, it's everybody. The guys on this team are like a second family to me."

Now a junior, Braden has moved from a spot starter to the No. 2 pitcher in the rotation. Unlike Roy, Braden is more of a finesse pitcher who throws strikes and relies on his defense. He doesn't wear his father's No. 32, which is on display on a wall at the Warriors' baseball facility. Or the No. 34 he wore as a major-leaguer.

Instead, Braden wears No. 16, which he said was the only number left when he arrived late to select jerseys while on the freshman team. But it also happened to be the number of his favorite pitcher at the time, Jose Fernandez.

Well, one of his favorite pitchers.

A memorial jersey placard for coach Roy Halladay, who died in a plane crash, is seen during the Lakeland Christian at Calvary Christian baseball game on Tuesday. (LANCE ROTHSTEIN | Special to the Times)

"He's my favorite pitcher who didn't make me do laundry," Braden said of his dad. "Thirty-two is his number. I don't want to put that on myself. Obviously what he did was great and I love him to death. But I have to pave my own path."

There will be a brief ceremony prior to Friday's game in memory of Roy.  Then it's on with what looks like another promising season.

Greg Olsen remains the head coach. He is surrounded by a staff that includes pitching coach Mike White and former major-leaguer Miguel Cairo. But the players believe Coach Roy will be with them in spirit.

"I totally hear him," ace Nolan Hudi said. "Pregame, during the game, I can hear all the advice he has given me. He's with me. He's with all of us.

"There's no other word to describe it, it just sucks. He's definitely here with us. I put his name on the back of the mound every single time."

Senior catcher Matheu Nelson was so impacted by Roy that he had "R.H. '77-'17. 34Ever" tattooed on his left bicep.

"Roy was such a great person," Nelson said. "He was a mentor and a father figure. Some of us were at his house just about every weekend just hanging out with Braden. It just makes you want to be more like him as a person, but also have that same fiery attitude he had as a player. He had that same attitude as a coach as when he was a player."

As for this season, players and coaches are realistic about their chances of another undefeated season. It's unlikely. Olsen said it's never talked about, just like it wasn't last season. The Warriors are off to a good start after a 6-1 opening-night win over Lakeland Christian on Tuesday.

Whether they end up back at the state tournament is still months away. But if they do go, Coach Roy will be in their thoughts.

"It's nothing you ever get used to," Olsen said. "We miss him. We miss him every single day."

Contact Rodney Page at rpage@tampabay.com. Follow @RodneyHomeTeam

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