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Roy Halladay and the connection between athletes and fans

It has taken me a while to get to a place of being able to write this article. News of Roy Halladay’s death seems like a long time ago now in some ways, and very fresh in others. I can remember clearly the feeling of concern as the news leaked that his plane had gone down, and then finally the sadness when it was confirmed that it was him. I first reached out to my fellow fans, and we were able to pool our grief and our memories.

Often, when a celebrity passes away, I find the reaction of their fans to be a bit too much. How can someone have that much emotion over someone they’ve never met? I generally find it difficult to understand celebrity obsession. They are, after all, merely humans like the rest of us. The skills that they are revered for, by and large, seem to me at times to be indicative of a society that has lost perspective on what we should value. Why is the ability to sing, or to play dress up and pretend, or to hit a baseball, valued so much more highly than the life-saving skill of a surgeon or the bravery of a firefighter or the devotion of a cancer researcher? However, when I got the news about Halladay, I began, maybe for the first time, to understand.

I have been an avid sports fan for as much of my life as I can remember. There are times where I do step back and question putting time and money into a business that is getting larger and more greedy every year, filled with people who are getting harder to cheer for. But I keep coming back. Why? I guess it just comes down to the fact that I enjoy it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found my love of sports evolving from an obsession with sports to more of a social enjoyment. I used to enjoy the game more for its own sake, watching athletes do the impossible and appreciating people performing at the highest levels. Now I get the most enjoyment out of the shared experience of watching a sport, celebrating a victory, or virtually ‘sharing’ the experience with friends near and far via the wonders of text and social media.

In addition to sports, I have always been a lover of movies, music and TV. Great writing has a way of moving me in very powerful ways. It will play with the emotions. But similar to sports, as I get older, I try to be more aware of finding ways in life to create those moving moments first hand, rather than as a result of sitting back and letting someone else entertain me. Watching sports and entertainment only requires my time and money. Playing sports and engaging with people require much more. I worry sometimes about the amount of time and emotional energy I’ve invested in just watching other people do things.

That said, it is easy to see the appeal of sport. To enjoy watching people do things we could never do. To feel connected to a team, a player, or a country. The interplay between athlete and fan is fascinating. One cannot exist without the other. Some athletes love the limelight. Some take the entertainer role to new heights. Others just simply focus on being the best they can be, either hoping that the fans will appreciate it, or not caring what the fans think at all.

I found myself profoundly impacted by the loss of Roy Halladay, and I was surprised at the impact it had on my life. What made me feel so connected to this man I never met, and only knew existed because he happened to throw a baseball really well, and happened to do it for many years in my home city?

First of all, he was a father of young kids, and he was about my age. While I was watching coverage of his passing, I saw a picture of him and his family that brought me to tears, and writing about it now these many weeks later still makes me well up. My heart goes out to his wife and kids. The rational part of my brain asks what makes this different from the millions of families that, in that moment, were dealing with similar or more tragic losses of their own? They are all strangers to me, yet I felt connected to this stranger. It is that fascinating dynamic between the athlete and their fans. He felt like part of my world in a way. It didn’t occur to me when I watched him pitch, but here was a man, the same age as me, him getting paid millions to play a boys game, and me spending a few of my dollars to watch him. In the end, I wasn’t mourning a celebrity. I was mourning a man, a husband and father, a man my age. I had found the connection to a guy I had revered those many years ago on the baseball diamond, when we occupied the same space while living in completely different worlds.

Roy Halladay was, simply put, the best Blue Jay I ever got the pleasure of watching. He wasn’t a character, he wasn’t an entertainer. But he won our hearts by his sheer determination to be the best pitcher he could be. Never before have I seen an athlete publicly demand to leave a team, and remain beloved in that city. It was like he was asking for a divorce, and we all sided with him. That was the type of respect that Roy Halladay commanded. He was determined to be the best, and wanted to do it on a winning team. He gave the Jays years to try and make it happen. When it became apparent that it wasn’t going to happen here, we all rooted him on and hoped for his success elsewhere. Roy Halladay is universally beloved, and couldn’t be more deserving of that love.

The Blue Jays have announced that they will honour Halladay on Opening Day next year. This will be the most I’ve looked forward to going to a Jays game since I attended his first game back in Toronto as a member of the Phillies on Canada Day weekend many years ago. I couldn’t wait for that day to come so that I could salute a player who had given us so many memories and moments of greatness. Now I look forward to being there to honour a man who gave us so much, and left us far too soon.

RIP Doc.