TORONTO - Just as Saturday’s Blue Jays-Phillies game was about to start, I turned to my colleague OJC Ruts, a.k.a. Mike Rutsey, and wondered aloud why the Rogers Centre crowd was smaller than it was on Friday — even though it was the big Roy Halladay homecoming.
“I guess everybody’s still upset over Burkie being in Afghanistan,” quipped Ruts, who’s pretty witty for an old grouch.
Somebody suggested attendance might have been affected by the TFC game down the road, or maybe even the Dyke March.
I don’t think it was either of those things.
Despite being arguably the greatest pitcher in Blue Jays history, Halladay rarely drew a full house when he was here, so why would he draw one now? The fact is, Halladay was never really loved in this town despite all the gushing you hear now. Respected, admired, revered ... absolutely. But he was never worshipped by Toronto fans the way Vince Carter (before he pulled the chute and demanded to be traded) or Doug Gilmour were.
It’s hard to love a guy who comes across as a robot.
And that was evident on Saturday. As far as hero homecomings go, Halladay’s was much like himself. Low key. That’s not to take anything away from the man as an athlete or a person. Halladay did some incredible things for the Jays during his 11-year career in Toronto and some amazing things for the community.
But he always carried himself with a certain ... well, he’s guarded. He doesn’t exude a lot of warmth or exuberance. And there’s nothing wrong with that. His job was to win ball games, and he did that almost better than anyone. And he did do a lot for the community.
But because of his low-key persona, the passion fans in this town have afforded for some athletes, never really translated over to Halladay.
Yes, he received a standing ovation when he strolled out to the mound at the bottom of the first, but it was more respectful than passionate. Plus, it was hard to tell if all the enthusiasm was all for Halladay because the dopey Blue Jays game operations people ran a T-shirt giveaway, with the babes dancing on top of the dugouts, at the same time Halladay walked out to the mound.
And it’s not like ovations are rare at the Rogers Centre. The drunken lout who catches the foul ball without spilling his beer gets a big ovation in this park. In fact, the idiot who ran on to the field in the top of the ninth received a loud ovation.
Hell, the biggest ovation of the day went to Toronto manager John Farrell and reliever Jon Rauch after they went after home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez, who seemed to have a different strike zone for Halladay than he did for Rauch. Then again, reputation calls are nothing new in baseball. Check out any New York Yankees game.
But at the end of the day, it was the perfect homecoming for Low-Key Roy. The fans were warm and respectful and gave him a “nice” ovation. But nothing crazy.
Halladay was asked after the game if he thought of tipping his hat to the fans when he received his first ovation.
“No. I kind of predetermined that I wouldn’t,” he said. “Obviously I appreciated it (the ovation). But by the same token I don’t want to go out there on these guys’ home field and feel like I’m the centre of attention. I’m trying to be as respectful as I can to their team and the Blue Jays organization. I didn’t want it try to go out and make a huge production out of it.”
That’s typical Halladay. Tipping his hat would have been making a big production out of it.
When he was traded to the Phillies for three prospects, the Denver native took out a full page ad in the Toronto Sun to thank the fans, the organization and the city of the Toronto for his time here.
And that’s typical Halladay too. Professional and thoughtful.
Toronto fans appreciate Halladay. But that’s about the extent of it.