DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Braden Halladay was watching his father, Roy, get inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame last summer when the idea first crossed his mind. Braden saw the red and white. He saw what his father meant to an entire nation, how proud his family was of their time north of the border. He started thinking about what it would be like to wear the Maple Leaf.
Braden spent most of his life in the United States, but he was born in Toronto and considers himself a dual-citizen, even if the 17-year-old isn't quite sure he has the paperwork to prove it. Since his high school career began, Halladay has proudly worn a patch with the Canadian flag on his glove. Braden doesn't know if he actually is Canadian, but it definitely feels like he is.
That's why Braden decided to suit up this week for the Canadian Junior National Team during their annual trip to Spring Training. When talking to Braden, it becomes clear early on this is not some kind of gimmick or ploy. Braden legitimately feels close to the country where his father spent 12 years playing in a star role for the Blue Jays. So there he was on Saturday afternoon, facing his dad's old team, on the same mound where his father's journey began as a first-round pick way back in 1995.
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"I find myself at the first day of school, when they ask your name and your grade and a fun fact about you, my fun fact is always I was born in Canada," Braden said. "I feel like I couldn't have had a better place to grow up. I feel I would not be anywhere near where I was. I still go back once or twice a year, and even though I'm not living there, I still feel it's a part of who I am."
Braden is not his father. He doesn't possess the mid-90s fastball that came with devastating sink and pinpoint command. He's probably not going to be a first-round pick, but what's important here is that he's living his baseball dream. The high school junior is committed to Penn State, and it's possible that by 2019 he will also be in the mix for the MLB Draft.
Despite the differences between son and father, there are similarities as well. The delivery, the methodical way he breaks down his own abilities and the skill sets of others. The way his eyes light up when he talks about pitching. He seems more outgoing than his father ever was, at least publicly, with a personality that he at least partially gets from his mother, Brandy. Braden is his own man, but he also seems to get it a lot more than most kids his age would.
This is a teenager who lost his father in a tragic plane crash just a few months ago, and he's now able to sit there and patiently, coherently, answer questions from reporters about his legacy. It can't be easy growing up in the shadow of someone with the stature of Roy, but Braden never resented it, not even for a second.
"At least from my perspective, he knows everything about everything as far as pitching goes," Braden said. "From a pitching standpoint, it was everything I could have asked for and more. ... Especially now, every time I make mistakes, I still hear him drilling me about them in my head, just because he's done it so many times before. From a mind-set standpoint, I don't think with any bias that I could have had a better teacher."
The younger Halladay was quick to follow that statement with an answer that his father never forced him to do anything. Yes, there was some tough love involved, but only when he was looking for it. Roy's approach was simple, let Braden know that everything was his choice, but if he did want to pursue baseball, then this is what you have to do to get there.
Braden put some of those lessons to use on Saturday, when he entered in the bottom of the eighth inning and retired all three batters, including Bo Bichette, that he faced. His fastball sat in the low 80s, with a breaking ball that registered in the upper 60s. The reaction, both on and off the field, said it all.
"That was a pretty good standing ovation for him," Blue Jays bench coach DeMarlo Hale said. "Both dugouts, his team as well, got up and clapped. He kept his composure pretty good, I thought. ... I'm sure there were a lot of emotions running through him, but I'm happy for him. His composure was there, he was out there competing. His dad was one of the best to ever toe the rubber."
During the months following Roy's death, Braden heard from a countless number of his father's friends and former teammates. Everyone had a story to share. They want him to know how much Roy impacted their life. How he was a role model, a source of inspiration for so many people. Braden experienced that earlier this week when one of his idols expressed those exact sentiments.
"I told him I got a lot of my lanes, repertoire, from his father," Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman said. "As far as cutting the ball, sinking the ball and having it come out of the same arm slot. I think Roy was the first one to do that exceptionally well in his career. I told him that. He said he's a big fan of mine, which is pretty crazy to hear, still, when your dad is Roy Halladay. Awesome to see him. I wish him nothing but the best."