MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Humble Halladay never lost track of his roots

Humble Halladay never lost track of his roots

The eighth-grade English assignment seemed relatively simple. The teacher instructed the students to write an essay on what they wanted to be when they grow up with the warning, "Don't be submitting any silly goals like President or professional athlete."

Harry LeRoy Halladay III was in a quandary. All he had ever wanted to be was a baseball player. Halladay, better known as Roy, had been playing catch with his father since he was 3. He was the youngest on his T-ball team at the age of 5. And in the basement of the family home was a batting cage his father built.

What, he wondered, was silly about wanting to be a baseball player?

Nothing, said Harry LeRoy Halladay II.

"I called the teacher," the father explained a few years ago. "She said she wanted the children to be realistic. I asked why take dreams away? Whether kids fulfill their dreams is not up to you. It's up to them."

Halladay's dream did come true. He did become a baseball player, and not just any baseball player. He became a pitcher who for a decade was arguably the most dominant pitcher in the game.

But for all Halladay accomplished he never forgot where he came from and who was there to help him along the way, which added to the emotions on Tuesday when Halladay, 40, died when the plane he was flying crashed into the Gulf of Mexico.

Halladay was one of those guys who took the mound and everybody in the ballpark knew he was in charge. Think about it: A two-time Cy Young Award winner, he is one of only seven pitchers to have finished in the top five in Cy Young Award voting seven or more times in a career.

In the decade from 2002-2011, Halladay won 170 games, 11 more than CC Sabathia. Halladay's 2.97 ERA was second in that stretch to Johan Santana (2.90), and his .694 winning percentage was 31 points higher than Santana.

Halladay's Blue Jays career

But Halladay was so much more than a baseball player.

He was one of those people who truly never forget where he came from, and understood that being able to help others was a gift that should be shared. He and his wife had a private box at SkyDome when he was with the Blue Jays, where children from a group called Sick Kids were guests for every Saturday home game.

He didn't take things for granted. That wasn't the Halladay way. As his father explained to that eighth-grand teacher, it was OK for him to dream but it was up to him to make the dreams come true. And the father did what he could to provide the opportunities for Halladay to turn dreams into reality.

That included bringing the late Bus Campbell into Halladay's life. The younger Halladay was 7 when he and his father heard Campbell, a Rocky Mountain pitching icon, speak at a banquet. The father asked Campbell if he would work with his son.

"Lay off the curve, work on a change and call me back when he is 14," said Campbell.

The elder Halladay couldn't wait. He called Campbell back when Halladay was 12, and a relationship that grew until Campbell's death in February of 2008. Halladay, who broke away from Spring Training to speak at Campbell's funeral, made no bones about what Campbell meant to him.

Phillies remember Roy Halladay

Plenty of people along the way worked with Halladay, but nobody had the impact of Campbell, whose only payment for his multiple lessons each week of Halladay's youth and his constant interaction throughout Halladay's career was chocolate chip cookies baked by Halladay's mother.

"Where would I be without Bus' tutelage and encouragement?" Halladay responded to a question in the aftermath of Campbell's death. "I doubt I'd be in baseball. I got my work ethic from my dad and my baseball knowledge from Bus. They were the two most important men in my life."

How important?

Asked if he would dedicate that 2008 season to Campbell, Halladay flashed a sly smile.

"My career, the way I live," said Halladay of what he dedicated to Campbell. "There are so many great things I learned from Bus about life."

And one of those things was helping others. Campbell was a junior high school teacher and a pitching guru. Even when Jamie Moyer, at the age of 30, came to Campbell for help in salvaging his career, Campbell wouldn't take any money in return, so Moyer established a fund in memory of Campbell's son, Randy, a high school coach in the Denver area, who died at the age of 36.

Over the years, Halladay found ways to repay Campbell, the biggest of which was living his life in a caring manner, just like Campbell.

And then there was that initial thank you at Christmas in 1995, after the Blue Jays selected Halladay in the first round of the baseball draft the previous June. Halladay decided to pay for the installation and subscription to a satellite television service, but knew Campbell wouldn't allow it to be installed.

Fans remember Halladay

So at Christmas break that year, Halladay called Campbell's house and was told Campbell was out for a while. Halladay sprang into action, and before Campbell returned, the system was installed and operational.

Campbell balked. He didn't want any gifts. Halladay explained it was so Campbell could eventually watch his pupil pitch in pro ball and offer him tips.

"Well, what's going to happen when the subscription runs out?" asked Campbell.

"There will be another Christmas before then," replied Halladay

And the relationship grew stronger over time. Others would work with Halladay, and Campbell was careful to never interfere. But there would be regular phones calls from Halladay to talk about the game -- mental and physical -- particularly when Halladay found himself back at Class A Advanced Dunedin to start the 2001 season after spending the two previous seasons in the Jays rotation.

"He did so much and asked for nothing in return," said Halladay. "I try to live my life the way he would want me to live."

Halladay did just that -- on the baseball field and off.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, < b> Write 'em Cowboy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.