Every offseason, I start to get the itch for baseball. It usually starts after Christmas and by the time spring training is nearing completion, I practically feel a gravitational pull toward Citizens Bank Park.
That pull overwhelmed me as I digested the news none of us wanted to – or expected – to hear last week.
We’ve all experienced loss in our lives, some more than others. They all hit us in different ways and there’s no way to prepare for your reaction. For a man I never even met, Roy Halladay’s sudden death has hit me hard and by just a quick look around social media, it has hit all of us hard.
As I process the news, my emotions range from sadness to nostalgia. Sadness for his family and what he left behind. Nostalgia for when he was larger than life, practically invincible. One thing remained constant, however. The need for baseball.
His death doesn’t make sense and it probably never will but if could just walk around the ballpark or watch the Phils take the field, I felt it would help. It was worth a shot.
Just as I did almost exactly seven years ago, I drove over to Citizens Bank Park. In 2010 it was to see Halladay’s Cy Young banner hanging above the third base gate. Today, it was to visit Halladay’s memorial filled with dozens of messages and mementos from grieving fans in the same spot.
Baseball has a way of connecting with people unlike any other sport. It’s there every day for six months, seven if you’re lucky. It’s thrilling yet it allows the fan to truly digest what’s happening. The sights and sounds, the rhythms and traditions are therapeutic. The players change, the style of play evolves, but the essence stays the same.
The game reminds us of our youth and for many of us in this community, Halladay was at the center of it. Doc signaled the evolution of Phillies baseball. Yes, the team already had three division titles and a championship on their resume by the time he arrived but the best pitcher in the game chose us.
Despite spending more than a decade in Toronto, Doc was made for this city. The dedication to his craft and humility in spite of his greatness were rare in an athlete of his caliber. It seemed as if he put everything into every pitch, just as the 45,000 fans in the stands behind him.
I didn’t know what to expect when I pulled over on Pattison Avenue. Frankly, I didn’t even know what to do. I just knew that I felt a pull to the place that is at the heart of my most cherished memories.
Even in the rainy weather, there were a few fans mingling around the memorial. I stood by the Mike Schmidt statue a few steps away, silently observing. Then I walked over to read the notes and messages.
I wasn’t there long, five minutes maybe. But as I stepped back into my car, I felt comforted. Comforted that we have the memories to look back on. Comforted that no matter what might be going on in our lives, baseball will still be there to remind us that everything is going to be alright.
The way we’re all feeling pales in comparison to what his family and friends are experiencing. Nothing will ever fill the hole that his passing has left behind. I hope that the game their husband, father, son, and friend gave so much to can give something back.
It has for me.