Roy Halladay returned to Toronto, just for one night, to deliver the first pitch before the Jays’ home opener on Friday. The smitten crowd showered the former Jays ace with a rousing, heartfelt ovation as he rushed out to the mound, acknowledged the roars, tipped his cap to the visiting Yankees, and threw a cutter to Mark Buehrle, the ceremonial catcher and Halladay’s opposite number for many a beat writer’s dream – the two hour pitchers duel.
It was sort of surreal to watch from a distance, in the auxiliary press box furiously trying to find highlights of this monster home run Giancarlo Stanton pounded at nearly the same moment as the speakers boomed Halladay’s name in Toronto. The Blue Jays best player for a decade then did what he always did – he wasted no time. To blink was to miss it, a hacky analog for his brilliant career.
But later in the evening, after the Yankees win went into the books and Masahiro Tanaka fever swept the world and after I ascended one booze staircase after another until I reached my laptop somewhere east of Ulan Baator to “file” my “story” on Tanaka’s impressive debut, another fleeting moment offered one last glimpse of Roy Halladay, franchise cornerstone.
While the stadium was empty and cleanup crews used leaf blowers to steer debris around the long rows and the bases and mound were safely covered for the night, four figures appeared on the field. Suddenly, Roy Halladay and his family walked unaccompanied onto the rubber-choked Rogers Centre turf. The former ace gave pitching lessons to his sons as his wife snapped images with her phone.
After a few moments, the notorious workhorse sent his boys to follow in his footsteps, directing them to the warning track and back for a run. While they made the long dash to the wall, the Doctor himself toed the rubber through the blue tarp, throwing a few phantom pitches before collecting the family’s belongings and exiting out the bullpen gate.
He was in those moments what he always was: just a guy. A very large family man who loves to fish and raise his kids. After Halladay left Toronto, there were whispers that he wasn’t the best teammate, that his brusque manner did not serve a greater good beyond his own maniacal work ethic.
This is the plight of a professional athlete, if we can misapply that word here. They are damned if they do. If they take their job too seriously, they are pilloried for not being enough of a team player. Considered selfish, somehow, These impressions inevitably reflect their dealings with the press but the newly retired Halladay stands in stark contrast to the guy most people saw for the past decade.
That was a man at work, a man who took his job very seriously and wanted to do his very best to earn his unfathomable paycheck. Retired Roy Halladay is just a 6’5″ guy in bad jeans who smiles easily and still loves baseball but he also loves being a stay at home dad who wants to catch big-ass fish. As his family walked off the field late Friday night he was a Dad, carrying all kinds of crap and backpacks and corralling two kids who were up too late and likely gorged on pizza. It was nice to see but also, watching those pantomime pitches from the covered mound, heartbreaking.
Halladay’s career is over, probably too soon. His life goes on and begins an exciting second chapter. But even in the photo above, you see his left arm curved in as though he’s wearing a glove. Throwing a baseball from a mound as he did thousands of times previously. Everything about Friday night’s toss was different but the only thing that changed about the man throwing it was our perspective on him.
Thanks for the memories, Roy. It was a pleasure.
Game of the weekend
Did a baseball game include a pinch-hit walkoff grand slam? If yes, proceed directly to the stage to collect your “game of the weekend” award. Does it matter than the grand slam was largely superfluous and that only two of the runs really mattered? No. It doesn’t matter at all. Don’t ruin this esteemed award, man. C’mon.
Today in weird – the Dodgers knock it around
There is nothing baseball does better than novelty. With so many games and so many permutations of his each, you never know when a truly weird night will sneak up on you. On Sunday night baseball last night, the Dodgers avoided the sweep and handed the San Francisco Giants just their second loss of the season.
The Dodgers jumped all over Matt Cain, banging out four home runs in beating SF 6-2.
Matt Cain’s struggles with the long ball continued during a strange night at the usually spacious Dodgers Stadium. The Giants themselves hit two more home runs (including one of the longest opposite field shots you’ll ever see) and the Dodgers added three doubles to their ledger on the night.
But that’s it. The Dodgers hit four home runs and three doubles. The end. That was all their offense. Two Matt Kemp bombs, two Hanley Ramirez dingers, a double from Ramirez, a ringing double off the bat of pitcher Zack Greinke, and a double to the right field corner by Adrian Gonzalez. That was all the offense the Dodgers needed and all the offense they mustered.
No walks, seven extra base hits, zero singles. Weird. WEIRD.
So weird, in fact, that Dodgers fan and Fangraphs contributor Mike Petriello noted this was just the second time a team managed such a strange line as a group. The last before this game was 1923, when the St. Louis Browns knocked three doubles, two triples, and two home runs en route to a 5-2 loss. They only scored twice!
A meaningless oddity but still kind of cool, when you think about it. Unless you’re Matt Cain and it makes you think about your very real mortality, then it’s decidedly less cool.
Any excuse to post this video, of the Dodgers not only hitting four home runs in a game but four home runs in a row in the ninth inning when down four runs is a good one.
The Dodgers hit seven total bombs this game (including a walkoff), the most in Dodger Stadium history.
Home Run Acceptance – Hanigan Alarm Tripped
The Ongoing Burden of Youth
Do you know who the youngest player in baseball is right now? It’s Bryce Harper – a man entering his third season in the big leagues. Third season, youngest player. It doesn’t add up in my mind that four of Keith Law’s top ten prospects are still older than a guy with more than 1100 plate appearances at the big league level.
Watching him hit over the last two seasons, it is easy to forget his age. It becomes less easy to overlook his inexperience when he struggles, as he is right now. Bryce Harper probably hasn’t struggled with much in his young life but he’s dealing with baseball adversity for the first time.
“I’m pretty lost right now” is what Harper said after being left out of the starting lineup yesterday. Lost is one way to describe his struggles in the early going of 2014. So far Harper has just three hits and one walk against 10 strikeouts in 22 plate appearances.
Of course, it is too early to worry about the results of these at bats but if the quality of swings is lacking and he isn’t comfortable, then the Nats should be concerned.
This isn’t a B.J. Upton situation – Bryce Harper will hit again and soon. Just make sure they put a lower case “c” on concerned, but Bryce Harper will not struggle for long. Will. Not. As long as he’s healthy, not much will keep Bryce Harper from launching his whip-like bat through zone with extreme prejudice. The results will come and any changes he needs to make, his track record suggests he will not hesitate to make them.
(We’re not supposed to mention the knee to the head he took on Opening Day, right? Right. Keep walking, nothing to see here.)