Just to be clear: Roy Halladay and I didn’t know each other well, just in passing and mostly through my two best friends, but when a two-time Cy Young winner and eight-time All-Star went to your high school, you let people know.
A typical conversation goes like this:
Someone: You’re from Colorado. Where?
Me: Denver area.
Someone: Where did you go to high school?
Me: Arvada West, the home of Roy Halladay.
Halladay, 40, was killed Tuesday when the small airplane he was piloting crashed into the Gulf of Mexico near Holiday, Fla. He leaves behind a wife and two sons.
His death has jolted baseball, not only because of the shutdown ace pitcher he was, but also because of how he went about his business and how good he was to his teammates.
“Devastating,” Texas Rangers great Michael Young, who played with Halladay in 2013 with Philadelphia, said on Twitter. “One of my favorite teammates ever. The blueprint for what a competitor looks like.”
Halladay was two years younger than me. Arvada West High School, in a suburb northwest of Denver, was only Grades 10 through 12, so Halladay and I were only on the same turf for the 1992-93 school year.
He went to Drake Junior High in seventh grade when I was there in ninth, but our paths never crossed.
That’s not entirely true: The very first youth baseball game I umpired, at the ripe age of 16, featured Halladay’s 14-year-old powerhouse Arvada club. It was an exhibition, and the veteran umpire assigned to work with me knew I might get overwhelmed behind the plate.
He had seen Halladay warming up and knew to stick me in the field, where I promptly blew a call on a pick-off play at second base.
Those who knew of his talent often saw him during the off-season at the A-West baseball field. He and his dad would drive there in their wood-paneled station wagon, hop the fence (I bet he had a key), and he would throw a bullpen session.
Halladay threw a no-hitter in the only high school game I saw him pitch.
After he was drafted in the first round by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1995, he played first base for the A-West Legion A team. His throws from first to home during infield sounded like a cannon going off when they hit the catcher’s mitt.
My buddies were starters for the 1994 Arvada West basketball team that blew it in the state quarterfinals. He backed up the All-State center, my best friend Scott Barrows.
“I didn’t like practice. Hated it,” Barrows said. “So, I’d want a day off sometimes. Roy had nothing of it, and went 100 percent all the time even as a backup high school basketball player.”
That work ethic would stick with Halladay his entire career.
When I hit the Rangers beat in 2008, he had been up to the majors, nearly throwing a no-hitter in his MLB debut, and down to Class A to rework his mechanics before becoming the Roy Halladay.
The Rangers actually beat him 4-1 on my first road trip to Toronto. Halladay allowed four runs on 11 hits in a complete game, one of 67 in his career.
Later that year at the All-Star Game, we connected briefly. His recollection of me was a vague one (but it counts), but he seemed to enjoy hearing the names of my two friends, Barrows and Marcus Fines.
There was talk the next year of the Rangers acquiring him at the trade deadline. Young had been wooing him, going heavy at the All-Star Game, as the Rangers flirted with their first playoff appearance since 1999.
The Rangers had a young left-hander named Derek Holland and a stocked farm system. Halladay had a no-trade clause. General manager Jon Daniels was fairly convinced the Rangers had made a deal, but Halladay didn’t care for the Texas heat.
So, Halladay went to Philadelphia the next off-season, joining a pitching staff that included left-hander Cole Hamels. Halladay threw a perfect game in 2010 and then a no-hitter in his first career postseason start.
“This hurts,” Rangers reliever Jake Diekman, a Phillies teammate with Halladay in 2012-2013, said on Twitter. “Doc is the definition of hard work. NO ONE outworked him. No one prepared more.
“As a young player you just watched him and wanted to strive to be him, but you couldn’t. Watching him pitch was like watching an artist paint. Greatest competitor. He was his own closer.”
Halladay trained so hard and worked so hard to perfect his craft that his body finally had enough after his 16th season. He retired in 2013, sharing half the season with Young after the Rangers had sent him to Philadelphia the previous off-season.
Halladay left behind a Hall of Fame-worthy pitching resume and left the with a compliment all players hope to receive — he was a great teammate.
Now, he’s gone far too soon.
“To the world, Roy was one of the best pitchers in baseball, but to me, he was an inspiration, a great mentor, teammate, and most important, a friend,” Hamels said in a statement released by the Rangers. “His preparation and work ethic has and will forever be ingrained in me. Roy was a man of few words, but he lit up when his boys were around. His family and this game were everything to him, and there will never be a day in my own life that I won’t miss him.”