By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
Four men who spent most of their lives working for the Blue Jays gathered in Dunedin on Monday night.
Gord Ash, former general manager of the Blue Jays, former coach Bruce Walton, Russ Williams, who runs the concessions at Dunedin Stadium (formerly Knology Park and Florida Auto Exchange Stadium) gathered in Dunedin at the house of Tim Wilken, ex-Jays scouting director.
They were there in anticipation of Tuesday’s Celebration of Life ceremony for Roy Halladay, who died last Tuesday when his plane crashed into the Gulf of Mexico.
Ash, now of the Milwaukee Brewers, flew in from Toronto, while Walton came from Calgary where he lives now that he is out of baseball.
Ash, Walton, Williams and Wilken toasted Halladay.
* * *
Also in the Tampa Bay area were Hall of Fame GM Pat Gillick and ex-scouting director Bob Engle.
Gillick and Engle toasted Halladay.
* * *
They were not the only people toasting the elegant Harry Leroy Halladay gone too soon at age 40.
Groups gathered Monday and again Tuesday to say goodbye to their (your pick) ex-teammate, pal, mentor and friend.
In all there was a deep list of current Jays employees (Alex Andreopoulos, Ross Atkins, JA Happ, Mustafa Hassan, Leon Harrell, Dane Johnson, Kevin Malloy, Shelby Nelson, George Poulis, Jeff Ross, Donovan Santos, Mark Shapiro, Mike Shaw, Marnie Starkman, Jay Stenhouse, Russ Williams and Charlie Wilson) to pay their respects.
And a long list of former Jays and Jays employees (Brad Arnsberg, Gord Ash, A.J. Burnett, Jose Bautista, Shawn Camp, Chris Carpenter, Ken Carson, Kevin Cash, Miguel Cairo, Shirley Cheek, Scott Downs, Bob Engle, Scott Eyre, Jason Frasor, Mike Frostad,Cito Gaston, Hall of Famer, Pat Gillick, Aaron Hill, Orlando Hudson, Reed Johnson, Erik Kratz, Brandon League, Jesse Litsch, John McDonald, Dustin McGowan, Rob Mummau, Lyle Overbay, Josh Phelps, J.P. Ricciardi, Scott Rolen, BJ Ryan, Juan Samuel, Brian Tallet, Hall of Famer Frank Thomas, Josh Towers, Bruce Walton, Tim Wilken and Ernie Whitt) were there to see Halladay off.
More than 1,000 people came to Spectrum Field to say goodbye to the two-time Cy Young award winner in a 91-minute ceremony at the spring home of the Philadelphia Phillies, who Halladay worked for coaching young pitchers.
Speaking at the ceremony were Phillies part owner John Middleton, Halladay’s father, also named Roy, former teammates Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and Chris Carpenter, former Blue Jays GM JP Ricciardi, ex-Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, Jays trainer George Poulis and finally Halladay’s wife, Brandy.
They spoke from a podium behind the mound, flanked by pictures of Halladay with the Phillies and Jays, along with floral arrangements bearing the 34 and 32 jersey numbers he wore.
* * *
Melissa Cates and Michael Paterson were all set to name their baby. If it was a boy they were going to call name him Fox. Then, the doctor gave Melissa the news that a little girl would soon be arriving.
“We went through the names of the entire Blue Jays organization,” said Paterson from Gloucester, Ont.
And when the baby arrived ... Melissa and Michael named their child Halladay ... Hallie for short.
“We wanted a player who everyone likes, a name who everyone could be proud,” said Melissa. Before moving to the national capital region, Melissa grew in Aylmer, Ont. playing ball as a fan of the Blue Jays (especially Robbie Alomar and Joe Carter).
“Everyone knows I am a Jays fan, when they ask her name, they can pretty much connect the dots,” Melissa said. “There are a lot of players but we have never heard anything negative about Roy Halladay. All that success he had with the Phillies and he came back to the Blue Jays to retire.”
Paterson said his initial reaction upon hearing of the plane piloted by the former Jays pitcher, was shock and thoughts of how young he is.
In April the pair sent Halladay a Tweet message about the name their baby. Then the two forgot about it. On Canada Day there in Melissa’s Twitter feed was a message from Halladay to Halladay:
Happy Belated 1st Birthday Baby Halladay!!! So glad your parents didn’t name you Harry like mine did!!! BTW Happy Canada Day!!!
Hallie is now 16 months old.
* * *
LHP Doug Dimma (Newmarket, Ont.) was at Trade Mark Industries Tuesday afternoon. He taped the ceremonies. Dimma was also at double-A Tennessee in 2001 when all the king’s men were trying to put Halladay’s delivery back together again.
Halladay threw his bullpen in front of an audience of assistant general manager Dave Stewart roving pitching co-ordinator Mel Queen and pitching coach Craig Lefferts. Dimma walked by and into the clubhouse,
“I was telling my wife how I was inside the trainer’s room doing some shoulder strength exercises,” said Dimma. “He came in, slammed his glove and yelled 'I JUST WANT TO BE LEFT ALONE!' For 15-to-30 seconds you saw his true frustration.
“As a pro guy, a major leaguer, he was great to minor leaguers like me. He was the thing to see for Toronto baseball back then ... every five days you wanted to see him pitch.”
Matt Logan (Brampton, Ont.), Jason Dickson (Chatham, NB), Halladay and Dimma would spend a lot of time before games on Play Station ... where the screen could be split into four and the players would race on an off-road, four wheel game.
“You could get style points and do tricks, I think he always won,” said Dimma, who recalled Halladay flying his remote control air plane around the outfield during batting practice buzzing unsuspecting teammates as manager Rocket Wheeler glared.
Dimma was at work last Tuesday when he heard the news. That night at his son, Aiden’s, minor mosquito team -- Newmarket Hawks -- had an indoor work out. Assistant coach Cory Fagin asked “Did you ever play with him?”
Inside the gym at the elementary school Dimma answered “you know I did, a little bit ... I was bummed out for the practice. You think about his wife, think about his kids.”
* * *
Tuesday night we received a text from a retired player. “Watched the funeral. It clicked who Halladay reminds me of: Dale Murphy.”
Halladay flew a Dog Rescue trip to Alabama for two five-month old puppies whose ears were cut off with scissors to prep them practice for dog fighting according to his Twitter account.
* * *
Wilken received one of 1,908 World Series rings given out by the Chicago Cubs, and now scouts for the Arizona Diamondbacks. But in 1995 he was a cross checker along with Duane Larson under Engle.
The way Ash recalls it, Gillick, helping with evaluation in his first year after stepping down from the GM job, pro scout Moose Johnson, who lived in Arvada, Col., Chris Bourjos, the Jays area scout out of Phoenix and part-time scout Bus Campbell were all in on Halladay.
Wilken submitted Halladay second on his list of top 200, behind only Ariel Prieto, 25, a Cuban defector who was major-league ready. Prieto went No. 1 to the Oakland A’s, pitched six games in the minors and by July 2 he was in the majors.
The first time Wilken saw Halladay was April 14, 1995.
“I saw Roy pitch a rivalry game against the other Arvada high school,” Wilken said. “They played in about a 50-mph wind and he was 92-95 mph.
On Monday, Wilken went to Countryside High to see the Calvary Christian Warriors, which has two prospects for the 2018 draft, Last year’s team went 35-0 and won the Florida State championship. Halladay served as pitching coach as his son Braden pitches for Calvary Christian. But the pitching coach was not there. He was wearing his other hat as mental skills coach with Phillies minor leaguers.
Tuesday was the plane crash.
And Thursday Wilken went to Frank Tack Field in Clearwater. Braden started and pitched three scoreless as mom Brandy and brother Ryan watched.
“It was almost eerie to compare the two,” said Wilken of Braden, who is eligible for the 2019 draft. “Braden is 6-foot-2, about 170. He was 84-86 MPH with a bunch of swings and misses.
“There was a fair amount of hugging and crying, as to be expected.”
* * *
INF Rob Mummau played with Halladay at Dunedin in 1996, Syracuse in 1997-98 and 2000.
Now his son Sam Mummau plays shortstop and pitches for the Florida Burn 13U, along with Halladay’s younger son, Ryan, who pitches and plays first base.
The Burn, like the Cavalry high school team, were at the diamond Tuesday, to say goodbye. Halladay was the pitching coach and the banker when it came to buying equipment and gear.
“He did a lot for the kids, for the team,” said Mummau, “we lost a good one today.”
* * *
A few springs ago, we followed Halladay for a day in Clearwater. He was at the park way before my arrival when it was still dark.
Later, Gorman Heimueller, Phillies minor-league pitching coordinator, showed up at the major-league clubhouse to take Halladay to speak to minor-league pitchers.
Walking past Richie Ashburn Field and into the weight room, Heimueller introduced him at 8:15 a.m. to 60 wide-eyed minor leaguers.
“I’m not very good at speaking guys, bear with me,” Halladay began. He explained his history to teenagers who don’t know it, including Phillipe Aumont (Gatineau, Que.), Steven Inch (Edmonton, Alta.), Scott Mathieson (Langley, BC), Colin Kleven (Kamloops, BC) and Chris Kissock (Fruitvale, BC), although the Canucks were probably far more knowledgeable on Roy Halladay than someone from the draft the year before.
Halladay told of his first-round selection in 1995, making the big leagues and leaving out how he almost threw a no hitter in his second start. He then shocked me sounding a bit like a braggart as he said, “Do you guys know that I hold a major league record?” as he was sticking out his chest.
“Yep, highest ERA in more than 10 starts (10.64 in 67 2/3 innings in 13 starts),” he said and the young pitchers laughed eventually. That earned him a ticket back to Dunedin the next year.
“It was a reality check,” Halladay said. “I made a decision if I made the majors or not. I wanted to be able to look myself in the mirror and know I’d given everything. I was going to re-dedicate myself.”
Halladay ticked off examples, working hard in pitcher’s fielding practice, paying attention when coaches speak, getting your rest and staying away from drinking.
* * *
Donations: In lieu of flowers, the Halladay family requests contributions be made to:
Halladay Family Foundation
c/o The Giving Back Fund
5757 W. Century Blvd., Suite 410
Los Angeles, CA 90045
The Halladay Family Foundation supports organizations that are tied to two causes most meaningful to the Halladay family --- youth sports programs and animal welfare.
Beneficiaries of foundation funding will include, but not limited to, organizations that provide the opportunity for young athletes to develop to their highest potential, with particular emphasis on sportsmanship and building greater self-esteem. Additionally, organizations that help to improve the quality of life for animals through rescue, adoption and humane treatment will be eligible to receive funding.
* * *
Farewell, Harry Leroy ...
If you are looking for Bus Campbell and Moose Johnson, the rest of the Colorado crew, they will be down by the bullpens ... waiting for you. They have found a good spot to watch Braden and Ryan pitch.