Sean Clayton was just hoping to play catch with Roy Halladay when he first met the former Blue Jays pitcher in 2008 through the Make-a-Wish organization. Halladay made sure the youngster from Montreal had a visit he'd always remember.
Clayton, who had been diagnosed with cancer almost two years earlier, had spent eight months in hospital before making the trip to the team's spring-training complex in Dunedin, Fla.
"I didn't have much to do in the hospital, so every day I would watch the Blue Jays," he said.
Halladay was the staff ace and face of the franchise for a Toronto team that struggled through most of the 2000s. The eight-time all-star died Tuesday at age 40 when the small plane he was flying crashed into the Gulf of Mexico.
Clayton, who played baseball as a young boy, was drawn to Halladay's skill and work ethic. His turn in the starting rotation became must-see television.
"That would be like the big night for me, I guess you could say," Clayton said Wednesday from Montreal. "Something to look forward to."
When the Make-a-Wish folks approached Clayton about his wish, he didn't hesitate.
"Without a doubt, I knew right away I wanted to play catch with Roy Halladay," he said. "I wanted to play catch with the best pitcher in baseball."
When he arrived at the facility, Clayton, still weak from chemotherapy treatments, did much more than just toss the ball around. He shadowed his sports hero for the better part of three days.
"He was nothing like he was on the mound," Clayton said. "I always watched (on TV) and he never smiled, he was always very serious. I was almost expecting that when I met him. But it was the complete opposite.
"He was very kind, very genuine and took all the time in the world to make sure my wish was the best day of my life."
Halladay took Clayton took to the weight room, watched an intrasquad game with him, and sat down by a back field to show him grips for all his pitches.
They sat beside each other in the dugout, where Halladay explained the intricacies of the game and introduced Clayton to his teammates.
"Going over it (now) I'm still in shock about how kind he was, how nice of a person he was," he said. "Words can't describe that kind of person."
Clayton was also given several pieces of memorabilia. He was floored when Halladay gave him the glove he used during his 2003 American League Cy Young Award season.
"I can't even describe how much it meant," he said. "Not many pitchers win the Cy Young and he decides to give one of his most cherished pieces of equipment to someone he just met, just because I was going through a hard time.
"He wanted to cheer me up."
Halladay was always active on the charity front.
In 2003, he purchased a luxury suite — called Doc's Box — so that children from Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children could enjoy a live baseball experience.
He also donated to the team's charitable arm — Jays Care Foundation — on an annual basis. His wife Brandy engaged in philanthropic efforts with the Lady Jays, a group of players' spouses and partners.
When Halladay was traded to Philadelphia in late 2009, the Doc's Box tradition remained at Rogers Centre. Thousands of kids watch games every season in the double suite, now named Jays Care Community Clubhouse.
"It's been a huge impact and something near and dear to our heart," said Jays Care Foundation executive director Robert Witchel.
Halladay was drafted by the Blue Jays in 1995 and made his big-league debut with the team in 1998. He hit the 20-win plateau on three occasions and won the 2010 NL Cy Young Award with the Phillies.
He spent four seasons in Philadelphia, finishing with a career mark of 203-105 and a 3.38 earned-run average.
"There's a difference between a great athlete and a legend," Clayton said. "He's one of those people who obviously performed while he was on the field.
"But to me, what made him such a legend in my eyes was what he was able to do off the field as well."
Clayton and Halladay kept in touch over the years. When the pitcher heard Clayton would be in Toronto on a family trip to watch a game, Halladay met them at field level to catch up.
"He wanted to know how I was doing and that everything was OK," Clayton said.
They exchanged emails every so often, with their last interaction coming shortly after Halladay's retirement when Clayton congratulated him on a "Hall of Fame career."
Clayton, now 22, has been in remission for years. He said he's feeling great as he wraps up the final year of his accounting/finance studies at Concordia University.
And as for that one-of-a-kind glove?
"It's kept in my room and I dust it every day," he said.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press