FORT MYERS, Fla. – The relationships between teenage sons and their “out-of-touch” fathers are universally complicated, regardless of socio-economic status, race, religion, political party affiliation or whether you pull for the Northside Cubbies or the Southside ChiSox.
As one example, consider the loving faceoff that exists between the Odessa, Fla., father and son tandem of 38-year-old Roy “Doc” Halladay and his 15-year-old son, Braden. Roy Halladay is bigger than life to a lot of teenage boys these days, having just concluded a stellar 16-year Major League Baseball career two years ago. Braden, on the other hand, is yet to play his first baseball game at the high school level.
The two were together at the Boston Red Sox’s JetBlue Park Player Development Complex Tuesday afternoon while Braden performed at the Perfect Game National Underclass Showcase-Main Event. They both took a couple of minutes to share with PG what a typical conversation between the two might consist of when the subject turns to baseball.
“I try to listen to everything he says, but he is my dad so sometimes I get annoyed,” Braden said with a subtle hint of sarcasm. “Being a 15-year-old kid I think that I’m doing everything right but I just have to remind myself that he’s the one who played in the big leagues and I need to listen to what he has to say.” That is what’s generally called an “enlightened moment.”
“I know my son tends to listen to other coaches a lot better than he listens to me,” Roy said during a separate conversation with PG. “The more coaches that are knowledgeable and can help him the better, and I’ve talked to him about that – if you hear something you like, try it, and if you like it keep it, and if you don’t, throw it out.
“That’s kind of the attitude we’ve been taking, even with the stuff I recommend to him,” Roy added. “It can’t hurt to hears things from different perspectives. Somebody may say something way different from the way I say it and it may click for him.”
Two voices, one belonging to the teenage son and the other to the major league-tested dad, basically agreeing that when it comes to the son’s baseball career, anything and everything is open to discussion, followed by consideration and then, finally, by commitment.
“Anytime these things come up, I always put it up to him and let him decide if it’s something that he wants to do; he definitely wanted to do it,” Roy said when asked why the two decided to travel down to Southwest Florida this week. “With him starting high school ball for the first time in the fall, for him to be able to see these kind of players early on can only help him.”
Roy and Braden Halladay were prompted to make the trip down from their home in Odessa, Fla. (a little over 25 miles due north of Tampa) by a telephone call from a PG rep telling them that the showcase had grown to a record 36 teams and there was a shortage of quality pitchers. According to Roy, Braden jumped at the opportunity to attend.
Braden Halliday is a 6-foot, 130-pound right-handed pitcher (like his father) and first baseman who is also a freshman (class of 2019) at Calvary Christian High School in Clearwater, Fla. The PG National Underclass Showcase-Main Event – the most heavily attended event on Perfect Game’s annual showcase schedule – is the second PG event he’s had the opportunity to attend, coming off an all-tournament experience at the 14u PG WWBA East Memorial Day Classic while playing with the Dunedin Panthers in late May.
His PG showcase debut from the pitcher’s mound Monday morning was a noteworthy one. He threw three hitless, shutout innings with three strikeouts while showing a 75 mph fastball that sat 71-74 mph, with a 64 mph slider and a 68 mph changeup.
“I just like it because it’s really organized; a lot of the stuff I do isn’t too organized,” Braden said when asked about his first showcase experience. “It seems like (Perfect Game has) everything going here and the fields are really nice and they take really good care of everything; it’s just really cool. I feel like everyone is getting a good shot at everything they want to do.”
Roy Halladay looked around the busy six-field JetBlue complex where showcase games were being played – state-of-the-art JetBlue Park with its field dimensions that replicate Fenway Park and its own scaled-down “Green Monster” in left field was used for batting practice – and seemed impressed.
He talked about how young players in the years before they join their high school team have no choice but play with and against the same kids year after year. Perfect Game’s tournament and showcase schedules allow young prospects like Braden an opportunity to see kids from all over the country.
“I think it’s good that they see different levels of competition and they see different strengths and talents,” Roy said. “For them to see some of the really good players and how far they have to go to get to that level, and then the really good players seeing some of the younger guys succeed in different ways, I think it’s helpful for everybody.”
Added Braden: “I go to a kind of small school so it’s really good to see what the competition is like not only in other parts of Florida but the other states, especially. It’s kind of cool to compare yourself to other people and see how you can get better.”
The Toronto Blue Jays selected Harry Leroy “Doc” Halladay in the first-round (17th overall) of the 1995 MLB June Amateur Draft out of Arvada (Colo.) West High School and the 6-foot-6, 220-pound workhorse of a right-hander made his big-league debut on Sept. 20, 1998 at the age of 21.
He spent 16 seasons in the major leagues – 12 in Toronto and four with the Philadelphia Phillies – and won 203 games. He became a two-time Cy Young Award winner and eight time MLB All-Star, and led his respective league in complete games seven times and innings pitched four times.
His Cy Young Awards came with the Blue Jays in 2003 (22-7, 3.25 ERA, 9 complete games) and with the Phillies in 2010 (21-10, 2.44 ERA, 9 complete games) and there was an 11-year stretch from 2001 through 2011 that he was considered the best pitcher in baseball. He threw his final game on Sept. 23, 2013 at the age of 36 with injuries cutting his career short.
Braden was living in a kid’s dream world growing up, especially remembering the time he got to spend in the Blue Jays clubhouse, which is remarkable only because his dad left Toronto after the 2009 season when Braden was just 9 years old. He also remembers throwing bullpens at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia during the four years (2010-13) Roy was in Philly.
Roy Halladay encourages Braden to throw a lot of bullpens now when he’s at home but also believes it’s important for his oldest son to get out and face hitters in game situations. That’s where he is asked to go out and pitch and change speeds and locate his pitches and, basically, think like a pitcher.
“The biggest thing that I try to tell young players or young minor-leaguers or even young major-leaguers (re: pitchers) is don’t be afraid of contact; use your defense,” Roy said Tuesday. “Be aggressive in the zone, throw a lot of strikes but be down in the zone.
“If you’re down in the zone you’re getting ground balls and there’s really no-way they can hurt you,” he continued. “I really stress that with them: throw a lot of strikes and get ahead in the count and make them swing the bat.”
Roy and his wife Brandy also have an 11-year-old son, Ryan, and Roy continues to coach Ryan’s baseball and basketball teams. Braden also continues to play freshmen basketball and admits that while he doesn’t see a whole heck of a lot of playing time he still finds it enjoyable.
“I coached Braden’s (youth) team for a long time and I was glad to be able to step back and just watch,” Roy said. “I try to stay out of his baseball career as much as possible and help where I can and let it be his. I don’t want him to feel like he’s playing for me – this is his deal – and he can take it as far as he wants to take it.”
It’s not only possible but, in fact, very probable that Braden will continue to find some of the advice his dad offers to him to be “annoying,” maybe even for another year or two. At this point in his life his curiosity makes him want to hear what other people have to say, even when a living, breathing baseball encyclopedia is living under your same roof.
“It’s always good to hear other opinions so I love hearing what other coaches tell me and kind of hang it up, because even if my dad considers one thing right, one thing that somebody else tells me might work better for me,” he said. “Other opinions always matter.”
But none of that is to say the expertise Roy “Doc” Halladay acquired during a 16-year big-league career is being taken for granted by his oldest son.
“Basically, everything I know about pitching is from him,” Braden concluded. “I don’t have the same exact motion but except for one or two things everything is pretty much the same.” MLB front offices from coast-to-coast would be wise to take note.