For the decade of the aughts, Roy Halladay was the core of the Toronto Blue Jays. Carlos Delgado came and went, literally. The star power of Vernon Wells waxed and waned by the season, and the Jose Bautista era was yet to come. Halladay was the constant.
While the greatness of the right-hander isn’t in dispute — and will now been recognized in Cooperstown — some ripple effects of that greatness are less publicized. It’s difficult to see someone who was American through and through as an important Canadian baseball figure, but as the focal point of Canada’s team, Halladay had an impact we’re only beginning to see.
The current faces of Canadian baseball — guys like Joey Votto, Russell Martin, John Axford and James Paxton — were Halladay’s contemporaries. The next wave of talent coming from above the 49th parallel spent their formative baseball years soaking in his starts.
“I started watching him when I was eight or nine years old,” adds Tristan Pompey, a Mississauga, Ont., native and third-round pick of the Miami Marlins in 2018. “That’s when I really started watching baseball.”
“My memories of Roy were that every time he pitched I felt like we were going to win,” says his brother Dalton, a bridge between the Canadian old guard and new wave on the brink of the majors. “He was that guy, our ace. Every year he was so consistent.”
Adam Hall, a Baltimore Orioles second-rounder in 2017, was born in Bermuda and spent the first 12 years of his life there but calls London, Ont., home. Even though Halladay had left the Blue Jays by the time he moved to Canada permanently, between summer trips to Woodstock, Ont., and Sportsnet’s surprising international reach, Hall was able to watch the ace.
“I started playing when I was six or seven, so that’s when I started watching the Jays,” he says. “I remember watching Halladay and realizing he was a really good pitcher.”
The connection between Halladay and this generation extends beyond appointment television in childhood. For some, he had a more tangible impact. Like San Diego Padres top prospect Cal Quantrill, who came in contact with him a lot growing up because Halladay was teammates with his father, Paul.
“As a little kid rolling around the clubhouse he was a very, very nice man,” says the 23-year-old.” But also a workhorse and a competitor. Somebody you could admire across all aspects of baseball.”
Not only are some of Quantrill’s earliest baseball memories tied to the former Blue Jays ace, they are some of his earliest memories, period.
“I was so young I can hardly picture it,” he says. “But I do remember watching those games, even in the kids’ room and thinking, ‘wow Delgado is so good, Roy Halladay is so good.'”
For many baseball-crazy youngsters, watching Halladay pitch wasn’t just entertaining, it was also educational. Even growing up across the country in Calgary, Atlanta Braves starter Mike Soroka found himself fascinated with the big right-hander.
“When I first started he was on the Blue Jays and he was the guy to watch,” says the 21-year-old. “Honestly my first memory of watching a pitcher in baseball was Roy Halladay. That’s really when I got into it. He was my favourite guy from that day.”
Although his repertoire doesn’t necessarily resemble that of his first pitching idol, Soroka found many lessons in following Halladay’s career whether he was with the Blue Jays or the Philadelphia Phillies.
“One thing was his mental approach during the game, it was just unwavering,” Soroka recalls. “He was a thermostat not a thermometer. His temperature was at 72 degrees and he kept it there… the way he kept himself on the mound and the way he kept himself cool as a cucumber in the hottest situations in baseball, that’s something anyone can do if they put enough work into it.”
Hall took a similar lesson from Halladay, although it took him years to realize precisely what he’d learned.
“One thing that did stick with me from him was that I always remember they would show him before the game and his pre-game routine and just how calm he was,” he says. “At the time, being that young I didn’t understand how important that was, but now that I’m in the professional side of things I can appreciate it more.”
Dalton Pompey, who was drafted by the Blue Jays the year Halladay left, was able to take something from the tales about the pitcher that continued to circulate around the club.
“Being in the Blue Jays organization for so long I heard about his work ethic and the stuff he did. I heard about his ups and his downs,” he says. “He wasn’t always successful, he came up and he struggled and got sent down to Dunedin and he had to work his way back. It wasn’t just sunshine and rainbows for him. He really turned his career around, focused on what mattered to him and got a second chance.”
Halladay’s long and twisting road to greatness appeals to Pompey as an example because the 26-year-old has had a variety of setbacks in his own quest to establish himself at the big-league level.
“He had to revamp everything. He had to change his outlook on the game and who he was as a player,” Pompey says. “It’s something that I can learn from. I’ve obviously had my up and downs, but it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
Whether their interest in Halladay was pure fandom, or something more personally significant, one thing that this generation can agree on is that going to see his starts in the flesh was something special.
“Whenever I got out to a game I always knew if it was Roy Halladay, the big name that he was,” says Bo Naylor, the Cleveland Indians’ first-round pick last season who also hails from Mississauga. “I always looked forward to seeing what he was going to do on the field.”
“We’d always get tickets whenever Halladay was pitching against the Yankees or against the Red Sox,” Tristan Pompey adds. “Everyone went to those games. It was always absolutely packed.”
“If you wanted to see a good game, you wanted to go when Roy was pitching,” says Dalton. “It’s unfortunate he only pitched once every five days.”
Quantrill, who saw as many of Halladay’s starts as anyone, couldn’t agree more.
“The atmosphere when Doc would start was a whole different game than when anyone else was going,” he says.
The other point of agreement is that the legendary worker was the perfect type of player and person for a young kid who loved baseball to choose as a role model.
“He’s someone that my dad admired,” Quantrill says. “And someone that he was more than OK with me looking up to.”
Although Naylor can’t boast the same personal connection to Halladay, he does a perfect job of summing up what the ace meant to those watching from afar — an experience shared by a whole cohort of young Canadians, whether they made it as players or not.
“He deserved everything he got throughout his baseball career. He’s someone you can look to for guidance because he was such a great leader on and off the field.”
More Halladay coverage from Yahoo Sports Canada: