At-ease Halladay returns to Philly

Roy Halladay talks with
Roy Halladay talks with (reporters before the game. He plans a career in sports psychology. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff)
Posted: August 10, 2014

Roy Halladay went to a baseball game March 31 with his son. He wore a hat to Tropicana Field in Tampa, Fla., watched one of his former teams play, and that is how the first Major League Baseball season in 17 years without him commenced.

A few fans there noticed Halladay, one of this generation's greatest pitchers, forced into early retirement by a bad shoulder. He managed to conceal his presence. "You don't tweet you are going to the game," said Halladay, a social-media star who ditched his stoic persona once he stopped playing.

He returned Friday, still at ease, to Citizens Bank Park. Fans received a bobblehead that depicted his celebration after a postseason no-hitter. He fired the first pitch to Carlos Ruiz, and the current malaise that infects these Phillies ceded to nostalgia.

The moment overwhelmed Halladay.

"Coming here is different because there's so many unbelievable memories and experiences," he said. "I've got butterflies - I'll admit. I don't know, there's something about this place and something about Philadelphia. Almost the entire first year I was here, I would sit on the bench and wonder how this was happening. The guys playing around me, it was surreal. A lot of that came rushing back pretty quick."

That is why, eventually, Halladay plans to pay it forward. He will pursue a psychology degree and hopes to become a sports psychologist. Halladay's bible was The Mental ABC's of Pitching, a book written by psychologist Harvey Dorfman. It saved his career, once imperiled in 2001 by a demotion to single A.

"I don't know if it's my calling, but I think that it's unique," Halladay, 37, said. "I had a chance to go through almost everything. . . . I could pretty well regurgitate anything Harvey ever said. But there are special circumstances, which is why I'd like to go to college. I just think that's something that I can offer back to baseball.

"Going home and just seeing what a mess youth baseball was was an eye-opener. I just want to make it a better game. And it's been a lot of fun doing that already."

Halladay coaches both of his sons, and he does not want to reenter the pro game full-time until they are older. But he spoke Friday like a man who aims for a lengthy post-playing career in baseball.

In the meantime, Halladay procured his pilot's license. He often fishes. He started a Twitter account last March to publicize a fund-raiser for one of his son's youth teams. "It got verified," Halladay said. "All of a sudden, I had 23,000 e-mails and I go, 'Wait a second.' "

He visited the Philadelphia Zoo on Friday with an anonymous Phillies blogger who started a website in 2010 with the sole intention of accompanying Halladay on said trip. His personality, never revealed to the public when he pitched, emerged. His communication to the world, 140 characters at a time to more than 33,000 followers, morphed into self-deprecating humor dotted by misspellings. (The current bullpen pitchers like to joke about Halladay's grammar.) It was about as unlikely as Chase Utley creating an Instagram account.

"It just became fun to be yourself, let your guard down," Halladay said. "I've always had fun making fun of myself and not taking things too serious."

He lamented the lack of a ring, but realized that it does not bother him as much as he expected.

"For me it was the journey, it was the process, that I always enjoyed," Halladay said. He recalled that the Phillies, who drafted 14th in 1995, passed on Halladay. Toronto selected him at No. 17, three spots after Reggie Taylor went to the Phillies.

"I just wish I was here earlier," Halladay said. "I wish they would have drafted me sooner."

A Phillies official told Halladay at 6:30 p.m. that he was to address the crowd before his first pitch. He did not prepare remarks, and they were brief.

"This has been one of the greatest experiences of my life to play in this city," Halladay concluded. "There is nothing in this world I would trade it for. Thank you very much."

Then he climbed the mound at Citizens Bank Park, wearing white with red pinstripes, once more.


mgelb@phillynews.com

@MattGelb www.inquirer.com/

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