Roy Halladay fan who met him through Make-A-Wish recalls '3 of the best days of my life'
Sean Clayton was a leukemia patient at age 13 when he spent time with Jays pitcher during spring training
Toronto Blue Jays great Roy Halladay, who died Tuesday in a plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico, is not only being remembered for his on-field accomplishments. "Doc" is also being honoured for his charity work that particularly helped sick children forget their circumstances, if even for a short while.
Halladay's body was recovered from the waters off the coast of Florida, just north of Tampa, early Tuesday afternoon after the pitcher's ICON A5 went down around noon.
He was 40 years old.
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On Wednesday, more details about Halladay's off-field work, especially with children, were emerging.
Sean Clayton, who met Halladay through the Make-A-Wish foundation when he was 13 and battling leukemia, said he is "in shock" over the news of his hero's untimely death.
"It's just a very sad day for a lot of different people," Clayton told CBC News on Wednesday morning. "He touched a lot of people, whether it be on the baseball field or in the community. It's a very hard day."
Clayton had made a request to play catch with Halladay through Make-A-Wish. He had spent most of a summer in the hospital watching Halladay and the Jays, and he told his father that if he ever got to make a wish, he would want to meet his favourite Blue Jay.
Not only did he get to make the wish, but it was granted, and he flew down to spring training in Florida. Clayton said he was warned that athletes tend not to spend a lot of time with kids.
But that wasn't his experience with Halladay.
"We spent three of the best days of my life. I'll never forget the amount of time he spent with me," Clayton said.
"He went above and beyond everything I could have ever imagined. And I'm more than happy I got to spend all that time with him."
On the first day, Clayton got to spend time at the team's spring training complex, where Halladay walked Clayton through his daily routine. They also played catch.
On the second day, Clayton got to sit on the field with Halladay during a spring training game. On his last day with Halladay, he sat next to the star as he signed autographs during a fan festival. Everything Halladay signed, he got Clayton to sign, too.
He also made sure that Clayton, who was "in a vulnerable state," tired and weak from treatments, always had a place to sit and water to drink.
"So he really made me feel welcome over my three days," Clayton said. "It's a testament to who he was as a person. He was just so kind and so understanding of my situation."
Roy Halladay touched the lives of countless Canadian youth. <br><br>Rest In Peace, Doc. Your legacy will live on forever. 💙 <a href="https://t.co/hYImlQJeh0">pic.twitter.com/hYImlQJeh0</a>—@JaysCare
'It was all behind the scenes'
Former teammate Scott Richmond, who played with Halladay in Toronto in 2008 and 2009, said he "emulated" Halladay growing up, and becoming his teammate "was a dream come true."
He recalled that Halladay was one of the hardest working players on the team, getting to the team's spring training facility hours before anyone else to work out. While that work ethic rubbed off on his teammates, Halladay's charitable work made an impact right across the city, Richmond said.
"He would never come in and talk about it, there were never any cheque displays on the field or anything," he said. "It was all behind the scenes."
Richmond noted that Halladay bought one of the ballpark's luxury boxes to host children at home games. Kids from the Hospital for Sick Children, the Children's Wish and the Jays Care Foundation got to take in games in what became known as "Doc's Box."
Richmond also said Halladay and his wife were involved with animal charities, as well, particularly dog rescue work.
"It just shows the kind of guy he was. He cut his career a little bit short, he could have had a longer career if he wanted, but he wanted to be home for the boys and his wife," Richmond said.
"Baseball was a small part of what he was, and everybody is finding out how great of a man he actually was. And I'm honoured to have spent time with him."
Clayton said the two remained in touch, and so "going forward, it's going to be tough."
"I'm just going to remember him not only as the baseball player, but as the kind human being that he was," Clayton said.
"A lot of people weren't able to see the things that I saw, but I really did believe he was one of the most genuine and kind people I'd ever met."