DUNEDIN, Fla. – A decade ago, in a tiny clubhouse in a quaint ballpark at the corner of Douglas Avenue and Beltrees Street here, Roy Halladay(notes) began his ride to two Cy Young Awards, a perfect game and a postseason no-hitter, and to the pitcher who on Monday afternoon threw two scoreless exhibition innings for the Philadelphia Phillies.
This was the corner and the ballpark of his youth, and then his prime, where the Toronto Blue Jays would come every spring to sort the big leaguers from the rest.
Before he stood on this mound as The Roy Halladay, he sat in a folding chair and then packed his bags as one of the rest.
Not long after his 26-pitch outing Monday, Halladay was in the visitor’s clubhouse, which 10 years ago was the home clubhouse, only this time wearing the red of the Phillies.
“I got sent down four times in the office back there,” he said, pointing a thumb over his shoulder. “The last time it was to A-ball. I’ll be glad to get out of here today.”
The last of the demotions happened near the end of spring training in 2001, the oft retold story of Halladay, the first-rounder from six years earlier, returning to the bottom of the minor leagues in order to work his way back.
There were four men in the room: Blue Jays general manger Gord Ash, manager Buck Martinez, pitching coach Mark Connor and Halladay. Martinez on Monday watched Halladay pitch, then leaned against a fence and recalled the particulars.
“We wanted to take him out of a competitive atmosphere where he wasn’t consumed with numbers and give him a chance to build a foundation,” Martinez said. “I knew he wasn’t happy about it, but he’s the guy who bought into the plan once he got to Mel Queen.”
Queen, the former big league pitcher, was the pitching coach waiting for Halladay on the minor league side in Dunedin. They “totally reworked” Halladay’s mechanics, turned him from a straight over-the-top pitcher with a straighter fastball and a loopy curveball no umpire would call for a strike into something like what you see today.
By July, Halladay was back in the major leagues.
“The next time we saw him,” Martinez said, “he was a different guy.”
Halladay won five games the rest of that season, 19 the next, and 22 more in 2003.
“Mel Queen did most of the work and Roy put most of the effort in,” Martinez said. “And he made himself into a Cy Young Award winner.”
A decade later, Halladay, 169-game winner and celebrated as the closest thing to a perfect pitcher in the game, still couldn’t shake the vibe in that old clubhouse.
“Being in here,” he said, “is weird.”
- Roy Halladay