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Roy Halladay's No. 32 retired in emotional ceremony at Jays opener

John Gibbons never had to worry much when Roy Halladay was on the mound. Until it came time to take his star pitcher out the game, anyway.

Gibbons, who managed the late Halladay from 2004 to 2008, remembers a specific game against the Boston Red Sox in which he pulled the two-time Cy Young winner after eight innings, replacing him with closer Miguel Batista, even though Toronto had a substantial lead.

“Batista goes in there and then all hell breaks lose,” Gibbons recalled with a smile Thursday, hours before the Blue Jays retired Halladay’s No. 32 in an emotional pre-game ceremony to kick off their new season.

Prior to their home opener against the New York Yankees, the Toronto Blue Jay honoured the late Roy Halladay.16:13

“I think the game ended with a smoking line drive to centre field, we caught it but the go-ahead run was on base. We got out of it and we’re shaking hands and I said to Roy: ‘I’ll never do that again, trust me,’ and if I remember correctly he just said: ‘Don’t worry about it.’ But I learned my lesson.

Halladay died last November when the small sport plane he was piloting crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. He was 40.

“He was elite in the game when he was pitching here so from a manager’s standpoint the biggest decision was when do you take him out,” Gibbons said. “That was always a battle. It was never a good feeling walking on the mound in case he looked at you like: ‘What are you doing?”‘

Fan favourite

The towering right-hander quickly became a fan favourite in Toronto, where he spent 12 of his 16 major league seasons. Halladay won the American League Cy Young with the Blue Jays in 2003 and took the NL award with the Phillies in 2010, his first season in Philadelphia.

He signed a one-day, free-agent deal with Toronto in December 2013 to retire as a Blue Jay.

The club returned the favour Thursday, enshrining him on the Rogers Centre’s Level of Excellence and unfurling a No. 32 banner from the centre-fielder rafters to thunderous applause.

A large, round, black-and-white 32 decal was laid flat on the mound for the pre-game tribute while four black-and-white photos of Halladay, taken at different points in his Blue Jays career, stood on the infield. The first photo showed Halladay with his wife Brandy and two sons, Braden and Ryan, who were on hand for the ceremony wearing white No. 32 Blue Jays jerseys.

Former teammates pay tribute

Former Blue Jays players Pat Hentgen, Paul Spoljaric, Paul Quantrill, Scott Rolen, Jose Cruz Jr., Jason Frasor and Chris Carpenter and former manager Cito Gaston were also part of the ceremony. Each embraced Brandy, 17-year-old Braden and 13-year-old Ryan before taking their places alongside them on the field.

Gibbons presented Halladay’s sons with a gift from the organization before a video tribute was shows on the centre-field scoreboard.

Former teammates joined Halladay’s family for the ceremony.(Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

The video began with touching words from former teammates as well as players with the Calvary Christian High School baseball team, where Braden plays. Halladay helped coach Calvary Christian to an undefeated 2017 season and a state championship.

There was no ceremonial first pitch. Instead, the game ball was placed on the mound by Braden and Ryan.

Halladay’s number is only the second to be retired by the Blue Jays. Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar’s No. 12 was retired in 2011. All Toronto players will wear a commemorative No. 32 patch on the left sleeve of their uniforms this season.

‘He wasn’t afraid of anybody’

While he never won a World Series, Halladay came closest with the Phillies and pitched a no-hitter in his first post-season start on Oct. 6, 2010.

“I remember thinking that no-hitter was incredible,” new Toronto reliever and Canadian John Axford said last week. “Being a Blue Jays fan, seeing how hard he worked, and this team wasn’t able to have the playoffs come to fruition for him. So I remember that moment [the no-hitter] and being so happy for him.

Roy Halladay’s name is emblazoned on the Jays’ Ring of Honour at the Rogers Centre.(Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

“Even though it wasn’t the team I wanted to see him do it with, it was something he had been waiting for his entire career and he had worked so hard for it and when he got it he took full advantage of.”

“He wasn’t afraid of anybody, and he wasn’t a guy that I would want to face, that’s for sure,” added Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis. “It just shows that this life, every single day you better appreciate it.

“Even the great ones can be gone in an instant.”

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Halladay's death, NHL's Olympic decision among 2017's top sports stories

The NHL decided to skip out on the Winter Olympics, a pair of Toronto franchises won titles and the Blue Jays lost beloved former pitcher Roy Halladay when his private plane crashed.

Here are 10 of the biggest sports stories The Canadian Press reported on in 2017:

NHL skips Olympics in Pyeongchang

After months of speculation, the NHL officially announced in April that it won’t participate in the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

It’s the first time since 1994 that NHLers won’t attend the Olympics. The decision was met with disappointment from players around the league.

Canada’s roster for the upcoming Games will be composed mostly of ex-NHL players that are currently playing in Europe.

Penuins go back-to-back

Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins defied a recent NHL trend by winning the Stanley Cup for a second straight year.

Pittsburgh defeated the Nashville Predators in six games to win the title. Crosby, the Penguins’ captain from Cole Harbour, N.S., also earned his second-straight Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Hornqvist’s late goal clinches championship repeat.0:37

The repeat is more impressive given the level of parity in the current NHL. The last team to win two Cups in a row was the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.

Pittsburgh’s win also extended Canada’s Stanley Cup drought to 24 years. The 1992-93 Montreal Canadiens are the last team from north of the border to hoist the iconic trophy.

Roy Halladay dies at 40

Roy Halladay, who spent 12 seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, died on Nov. 7 at the age of 40 when his private plane crashed into the Gulf of Mexico.

His death was a shock to Canadians that witnessed him win a Cy Young Award with the Blue Jays in 2003 and another as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010.

Roy Halladay, who spent 12 seasons with the Jays, was flying in his two-seater plane over the Gulf of Mexico when it crashed on Tuesday.1:04

Halladay was with Toronto from 1998 to 2009 before being dealt to Philadelphia, where he played from 2010-13. He was a three-time 20-game winner and pitched both a perfect game for the Phillies (2010) and a no-hitter in the National League Division Series later that year.

Rachel Homan’s curling dominance

Ottawa’s Rachel Homan produced one of the most successful calendar years in curling history in 2017.

The 28-year-old skip earned a berth in February’s Olympic Games with a victory at the Roar of the Rings. She also captures the Tournament of Hearts national title and the world championship.

It’s the first time that Homan will represent Canada at the Olympics. The national title was her third and the worlds win was her first.

The Canadian squad won every game at the worlds — Homan’s third attempt at world championship glory — and erased the country’s nine-year title drought.

Toronto FC wins 1st MLS Cup

Toronto FC started the Major League Soccer season looking for redemption after losing in penalty kicks to the Seattle Sounders in the 2016 MLS Cup at BMO Field.

They accomplished just that and more, defeating Seattle 2-0 in a rematch on home field to win the first MLS championship in franchise history.

Toronto (20-5-9) was also the best team during the regular season and set a record with 69 points — the most ever in MLS history. Along with the MLS Cup, they accomplished a treble by capturing the Supporters’ Shield as best MLS regular-season team and a Voyageurs Cup as Canadian champions.

Led by captain Michael Bradley and forwards Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, the Reds set franchise records for wins (20), goals scored (74), fewest goals allowed (37), shutouts (13), home wins (13), home points (42), road wins (7) and road points (27).

Argos right the ship to win Grey Cup

The Toronto Argonauts fired general manager Jim Barker following a 5-13 season in 2016 and had head coach Scott Milanovich resign.

Expectations were low entering 2017, but with new personnel such as GM Jim Popp and head coach Marc Trestman, Toronto turned things around drastically.

Quarterback Ricky Ray was mostly healthy this season and led the Argos to a 9-9 regular-season record and East Division title.

Toronto went on to capture the 17th Grey Cup in franchise history with a 27-24 upset win over the Calgary Stampeders at Ottawa’s TD Place.

Shapovalov’s stellar summer

Denis Shapovalov started this year as the 234th ranked player on the ATP World Tour. He finished 2017 ranked No. 51.

The 18-year-old burst onto the tennis scene in 2017 — highlighted by a trip to the semifinals at the Rogers Cup in Montreal.

Shapovalov beat world No. 1 Rafael Nadal at the Rogers Cup before falling to Alexander Zverev in the semis. He’s the youngest player to ever to reach an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 semifinal.

The Richmond Hill, Ont., native used that momentum to reach the fourth round at the U.S. Open — his best finish at a senior Grand Slam.

The Canadian teen won the tournament by 5 strokes.1:23

R.J. Barrett’s basketball emergence

R.J. Barrett turned heads this year as Canada’s next top basketball star.

The 17-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., earned MVP honours over the summer while leading Canada to gold at the FIBA under-19 World Cup in Cairo. It was the first time Canadians of any gender or age group won a world basketball title. And Barrett did it all as one of the tournament’s youngest players.

Canada didn’t back its way into the title either. They decisively beat the United States in the semifinals before cruising past Italy in the final.

The tournament success prompted Barrett to rethink his future and reclassify for college a year earlier. He announced his intentions to play for Duke next year.

Barrett could become the third Canadian to go No. 1 overall in 2019 after Anthony Bennett (2013) and Andrew Wiggins (’14).

Brooke Henderson’s successful year

Brooke Henderson built off an impressive rookie season to earn two more LPGA Tour wins this year.

The Smiths Falls, Ont., native won both the McKayson New Zealand Women’s Open in September and the Meijer LPGA Classic in June to reach five career wins.

Another highlight on the season for the 20-year-old was rallying back at the CP Women’s Open in Ottawa to finish tied for 12th, firing a course record 63 in the process.

Henderson, 20, earned more than $ 1.5 million US and finished sixth on the money list. She’s currently No. 13 on the world rankings.

Canada shut out at track worlds

Canada entered the world track and field championships in London with a ton of hype after a steady build up of solid performances in the two previous years.

But a slew of injuries and illnesses left the Canadians off the podium and empty-handed for the first time in 16 years.

Sprinter Andre De Grasse pulled out two nights before London with a torn hamstring. He was pegged to win three medals. Olympic and world champion high jumper Derek Drouin withdrew with an Achilles injury and then a stomach bug swept through the Canadian team hotel which forced nine Canadian athletes and staff into quarantine.

Canada had won six medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

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Canadian pitcher feels 'blessed' to have been Roy Halladay's teammate

Phillippe Aumont will never forget carrying his luggage into the Philadelphia Phillies clubhouse on Aug. 21, 2012, two days before pitching a scoreless inning of relief against the Cincinnati Reds in his major-league debut. And he’ll never forget the first player he saw — ace right-hander Roy Halladay.

“We played at 7 p.m. and no players usually showed up until 2 or 2:30,” Aumont recalled. “He was in shorts, a T-shirt and was sweating. He’d already been working out. I said, ‘Hey Roy, how are you doing?’ and he said, ‘Hey Phillippe, welcome to the big leagues. Have fun.’

​”He had remembered my name. I was like, ‘This is great.’ I’ll cherish that for the rest of my life.”

Halladay died Tuesday at age 40 in a plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast. Aumont heard the news that afternoon as he was shopping in Gatineau, Que. In mid-October, he lost another former teammate when Chicago White Sox pitcher Daniel Webb, 28, was killed in an ATV accident in Tennessee.

“Another tragic accident. They’re gone forever,” Aumont said. “You have to absorb everything and enjoy life and everything you do.”

Aumont, who spent parts of four seasons in the Phillies organization, remembers Halladay as a confident man, intense in the gym and on the mound, and intimidating in a way.

Former Blue Jay Roy Halladay killed in plane crash1:04

“Roy was more of a silent leader for me,” said Aumont, who played this year with the Ottawa Champions of the Can-Am League. “I looked up to him from afar. I always envied the way he worked, the way he took care of business.”

They first met at the Phillies’ spring training camp in 2010 after Halladay had been acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in a four-player deal on Dec. 16, 2009.

Shy by nature, Aumont always took the initiative to introduce himself to new players who were older and had more service time in the majors than he did.

“I got to say hi to him. Everything with him was very, very quick,” Aumont said. “I was 21 years old and this was The Man. I’m about to wear the same uniform as this guy.”

The six-foot-six, 225-pound Halladay went on to win a Cy Young Award in 2010 as the top pitcher in the National League to go with his 2003 American League honour. He pitched a perfect game on May 29, 2010 against Florida before no-hitting Cincinnati in the playoffs later that season.

At one Phillies spring workout, Aumont took a foul ball off the left forearm from one of Halladay’s buddies, professional sport fisherman Skeet Reese. After his bullpen session, Halladay checked in on a bruised Aumont while Reese returned to give him a fishing reel.

“I still have that reel, so I think I’m going to keep it for life,” said Aumont, who was taken 11th overall by the Seattle Mariners in 2007, the first player from Quebec to be chosen in the first round of the MLB amateur draft.

Though he was never able to win a full-time job with the Phillies, during his brief stints with the team Aumont would analyze Halladay’s mechanics in the bullpen.

“Every fifth day when Roy was on the mound and I was in Philly, it was unreal to watch. The greatest thing ever,” Aumont, now 28, said. “He was prepared and his mechanics were flawless. I mean, flawless.”

Aumont says each of Halladay’s steps on the mound were the same, as was his step behind the rubber when he went into his windup. When the man nicknamed ‘Doc’ toed the rubber, Aumont points out, it was one spot. And when Halladay landed with his left leg, it was a perfect print.

‘Roy will be a part of me for the rest of my life in so many ways.’— Canadian pitcher Phillippe Aumont on former Phillies teammate, the late Roy Halladay

“It was unbelievable,” said Aumont, who represented Canada at the 2009 World Baseball Classic and later won a gold medal with Canada at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto. “The way he comes back and into his motion, where he’s crunched and pushes off the leg, and his arms are separating, those are the things I picture in my mind when I throw the ball.”

On days with Ottawa when Aumont’s pitches were “all over the place,” he would take a step back and attempt to mimic Halladay.

“I would do the same windup as him for five or six pitches and then go back to my mechanics, but picturing Roy doing his mechanics — how he separated his hands and crunched [his body]. When I’m at my best, it’s because I’m picturing Roy throwing the ball,” Aumont said.

Intent on attempting a major league comeback in 2018, Aumont will be in Arizona later this week trying to find a team. Should he run into trouble on the mound, he’ll be thinking of Halladay.

“Roy will be a part of me for the rest of my life in so many ways,” Aumont said, before delivering a final farewell to his ex-teammate. “Thank you for being you and everything you did in the game. It’s a blessing we crossed paths in our careers and I got a chance to look up to you from a closer distance, but far away.”

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