I sat with my brother, Dan, arms draped over one another’s shoulders, bearing witness to one of the most memorable 30 seconds in Philadelphia sports history. As the only baseball/Phillies diehards in the living room of my then-girlfriend’s apartment, we alone grasped the intensity of this moment. The chill that overcame us was brought on by something far more powerful than the October air – it was the work of a man on a small bump of dirt, operating live before a packed theatre.
Brandon Philips waved his bat in anticipation of the next pitch, in such a way that inspired fear that this thing of beauty – this fragile magic – would all disappear after 8 2/3. Philips took his hack, sending the ball spinning around its own axis, along the edge of his discarded stick, and taking off toward first on a course of certain obstruction. Somehow, some way, Chooch came up with the ball, fired down to Ryan Howard, and secured Halladay’s place in the annals of Phillies lore.
A no-hitter. In the playoffs. Against one of the best-hitting teams in baseball that year.
Dan and I shot up off the couch in a full embrace, jumping up and down in frenzied jubilation. Indeed, Philadelphia made a dent on the Richter scale that evening.
Anyone who saw it will remember that scene forever.
It’s impossible for me to pick a favorite Phillies memory. There are so many that stand out in the course of 34 years that nailing down one – sans 2008 as a whole – is a feat of futility. Same goes for memories of Roy Halladay’s time in red pinstripes.
I was fortunate to have attended a great number of games in the Phils’ 2006-2011 glory stretch. I was even more fortunate to have been in attendance for many of Doc’s gems. As Harry Kalas once said about days when Steve Carlton was set to pitch, you always knew you were in for something special - every single time.
His pre-game bullpen sessions drew flocks of spectators. To see that kind of mastery up close was something to behold.
In rhythm, in time, keeping pace with Chooch, Doc executed each and every iteration with such acute precision that you couldn’t help but wonder if he was made of more than the nerve and sinew we all share. He was a superman in cleats and a ballcap, staring down villains from behind his steely swath of leather.
I was in the stands in D.C. when our new ace mowed down nine Nats in his first of countless dazzling performances for the Phils. There was an electricity in the air amongst those that had made the same journey. We all knew this guy was special, and if there was anyone who could put us on his back and ride us to another parade down Broad Street, it was him.
While most fans tend to recall the shiniest of moments – the playoff no-no, the Miami perfecto, the 20th win – the one that has always stood out to me the most is Roy’s final performance of the 2011 campaign.
It was a perfect October evening. That electricity that had sparked in D.C. was approaching its crescendo. Roy Halladay would toe the rubber in what we hoped would be a matinee performance, in anticipation of his finale on a much grander stage. We needed a win and our prized horse was primed for the fight.
I sat on the roof of my Queen Village apartment, sipping an IPA and staring out over the skyline and the Delaware. I decided that, for what could potentially be my last game before two years in Ethiopia, it would just be me and Franzke & LA, as it had been so many times before. Roy always made it easy on the boys, which was a joy to hear.
As some will recall, Doc did his job, striking out 7 over 8 strong innings. The Cards managed a run and the Phils’ offense couldn’t buy a run. Ryan Howard, after a monstrous clutch homerun in Game 1, grounded out weakly to end the game, crumbling into a bundle of flesh and bones as the Cardinals celebrated their advance. It was right up there for me with the Joe Carter home run in the annals of Phillies’ tragedy, and one of the most Shakespearean sort.
When I finally caught up with my brother for the first time after the news of Roy’s passing, he reminded me of one of our best memories together that involved a most forgettable performance by our beloved ace. It was May 2010. The Phils’ offense couldn’t touch Tim Wakefield, Roy looked a mess and got clobbered by the Sox’ mighty clubs.
Most people reading this probably can’t recall, off the top of their heads (without Googling), what happened the next start after that disaster against the Red Sox.
At that early stage, the majority of Philadelphia sports loyalists were discrediting Halladay as a bust, a complete waste of our farm system. Plus, as I alluded, the Flyers were in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Phils were on the road against the Marlins. A no-brainer, by all accounts, for anyone wanting to settle into some sports on a pleasant late-spring Saturday evening.
Let’s just say he got up off the mat by pitching a perfect game.
For those of us on Twitter, following along as he lived out his lifelong dreams after a storied career, not to mention all the great things he was doing for the community and the world, was a real treat. He displayed an uncanny sense of humor you always knew was laying deep beneath his fierce, competitive armor. It was clear that this guy was really something spectacular, as reputed, in just about every layer of life.
And that’s what made the news so hard to swallow. Not only was Roy a revered athlete, but a certified good guy, made up of all the stuff we believe a hero to be.
Zoo With Roy once remarked about Halladay, “it dawns on you that you got to see a polar bear in person.” In my time as a Philadelphia Phillies fan, we haven’t had too many polar bears come through the Vet or CBP. We’ve had some bears, for sure, but very few that would befit the polar bear analogy of ZWR.
Zoo’s call to action – to enjoy the polar bear – was perhaps the most sound advice for anyone who thought this sort of player was anything less than an immortal, at any point in his tenure with the Phillies. Indeed, even polar bears are subject to mortality, and you never know how many opportunities you will have to see one, especially these days.
Roy Halladay left this world to soon, but he will forever be an inspiration to so many, having left behind a trail of marvelous memories. May his legacy forever be an inspiration for work ethic and approaching the game with integrity. He was sound proof that discipline, dedication, and treating your peers with respect all pay off.