I never knew Roy Halladay as a Blue Jay.
It seems blasphemous to admit this, as if I carry a Blue Jays fan badge which will be revoked at the mere suggestion that I didn’t see every single one of his starts. I saw none of them. Nothing until a year after he’d been traded to the Phillies, when I watched him start the All-Star Game and lose in the playoffs to Chris Carpenter. The trade itself, back in 2009, was one of the first baseball events I ever actually noticed— it was the talk of the town, obviously, and I had almost no idea who he was.
Sometime after the 2010 playoffs, I went to a party where someone lamented having lost Halladay. Feeling smart that I actually knew the name of a current and good Blue Jay (how far we come, I guess), I said “well, at least we have Jose Bautista,” vaguely aware that it wasn’t quite the same—uh, I think one of them hits the ball and one of them pitches it? “I guess.”
Roy Halladay retired yesterday. Even though I’ve only known him a few years, it feels exceedingly strange to say that. I just assumed we would have so many more chances to see him be Doc, even if he wasn’t who he once was. He came back in July 2011, only a few months after I dove into baseball; Jose Bautista hit a home run off him, and I was listening intently on the radio, remembering that party and imagining them playing side by side. I never saw him pitch in person.
All this seems particularly poignant because Jarome Iginla is playing against the Calgary Flames tonight, and for all the hero I never had in Roy Halladay, I had it—have it—in Jarome. I never knew the Calgary Flames without him. He arrived when I was six years old and I don’t remember that trade even a little—at the first game I went to, two years later, he was there. He was always there. For so many of us, there were no Flames without that creased-forehead smile and the hundreds and hundreds of goal celebrations, year after year after year.
Jarome meant everything to us. He was the beacon of hope that we still had a chance, that 2004 would end in joy instead of wrenching disappointment, that he could pull the team through its darkest days into a chance to hoist the Cup after fifteen, sixteen, seventeen years. And even though we could all feel it coming, letting him go was one of the most surreal moments of my sports life—seeing the press conference where they announced it for real, that first sad Flames game without him, and the afternoon when we turned on our TVs to see him in the Penguins blue thirds, skating with guys who weren’t ours.
I don’t have personal memories about Doc, but I imagine that if I did, they wouldn’t be so different. He, too, was one of the best his team had ever seen. He brought fans together and gave them hope. And he felt such a connection to the team that he signed a one-day contract in order to retire a Blue Jay, an acknowledgment of the consuming emotional ties of sports. Roy Halladay retired without ever pitching in a World Series, foiled by the luck of baseball and a mortal body—sometimes life is just not magic enough.
I don’t think it’s reaching too far to say that in some ways I project Iginla onto Halladay, and a little vice versa—if I’d known Halladay in his Toronto years, or even his first as a Phillie, I’d have loved him with every part of myself, in that way you love sports heroes that transcends all other boundaries. Blue Jays fans still rooted for him after he left, and Calgary picked up where they’d left off with Jarome in Pittsburgh. Both deserve piles of championships, and I’m truly sorry we’ll never see Halladay celebrate one on the mound. All I can do is hope that Jarome doesn’t end up that way, too. I don’t want to regret another thing I’ll never see.
When I moved to Toronto in the fall of 2006, I was 17 years old. I’d grown up in suburban Calgary, independent to some degree but far enough away from things that my parents would often have to drive me to the C-Train station. Calgary was familiar; I spent most of my time doing the same things in the same neighbourhoods, and I never really thought anything of it.
Toronto was uncharted territory. It was new and exciting and wildly confusing, and I spent a lot of time poring over transit maps and riding the subway to figure out what was going on. My first TTC Ride Guide had all kinds of markings and annotations and addresses scrawled on it, and it wasn’t until it started disintegrating at the seams that I reluctantly picked up a fresh one. I used it every day and got to know the city intimately, soon able to plot my routes anywhere with barely a glance at the colourful, spidery transit lines.
Whenever I’d go back to Calgary, though, it was usually the same old. I was back in familiar territory and going to familiar locales. Most of the exploration stayed east.
Virtually every sports fan has a story of a Game 7 that broke their hearts.
At least, those sports fans who enjoy games incorporating a best-of-seven round somewhere — baseball, hockey, basketball … There’s Game 5 do-or-die contests in baseball too, in the Division Series, but “Game 5” doesn’t quite come with the same gravitas. Game 7 is the ultimate. Six games played, three up and three down, and two undoubtedly tired teams must then fight one last time, winner take all. They are sports all wrapped up in one defining game: the highest highs, the lowest lows, the nail-biting and teeth-gnashing and incoherent joyful shouting and some of the most heart-racing seconds you will ever experience.
I’ve got plenty of Game 7 stories, having grown up a hockey fan. It’s where the awe and terror of those words was instilled in me, bound into my instincts. Say “Game 7” to those of us in the know and our hearts begin to pound and our hands start to sweat. They’re the scariest words in sports. Those nights are the best day of someone’s sporting life, and the worst day of someone else’s.
Last season was my first MLB playoffs, and we all know well what Game 7 broke many hearts (and buoyed up many others) then. If we’re going to be perfectly accurate, though, it was Game 6 that did the breaking; the next was just the cherry on top. It ensured that I’ll never be able to confidently say “Down to their last strike” about the Cardinals again—a valuable lesson that no game is ever certain, no lead protected, until the game is over. The Rangers had so many chances, were so close every time, and could never quite make it.