Triumph Through Tragedy: The Braden Halladay Story

Braden Halladay has faced tragedy and doubt throughout his life, from the loss of his father to a struggle for playing time at the elite level. But through it all, he has maintained a positive mindset that makes him who he is.

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The most important news in Braden Halladay’s life came via a Twitter post.

Everything in his life was coming together. The prior spring, Calvary Christian High School won their first state title in program history, capping off a perfect 30-0 season with an 11-0 run-rule win in the championship game. Halladay was named a top 500 recruit nationally, garnering interest from schools like Columbia, Boston College, and Penn State. Most importantly, he was getting to spend more time with his father, who had recently retired from MLB.

Braden began the morning of November 7, 2017, just like any other. He woke up, got dressed, brushed his teeth, and said goodbye to his mother before embarking on the 30-minute drive to school.

Soon after arriving, his phone buzzed. It was his mother, and he instantly worried; she didn’t normally call during school hours. He answered. “Grab your brother and come home,” she said.

Ten minutes later, a text arrived from a good friend. “This isn’t true, right? Like, this has to be fake.” There was a link to a Twitter post, which shared the news he never thought he’d hear: his father was gone.


 

Braden Leroy Halladay was born on August 14, 2000, son of Brandy Halladay and Harry Leroy Halladay III – better known as Roy. Growing up in the shadow of his Major League father, Braden always knew he wanted to be involved in baseball, one way or another. His earliest baseball memories came from high atop the condos at Toronto’s Rogers Centre, home of his father’s Blue Jays, or from the Jays’ clubhouse just below the home dugout. It was a bit of a culture shock, then, when 4-year-old Braden stepped foot on the grounds of East Lake Little League in Tarpon Springs, Florida, for the first time, catcher’s gear and plastic bases in hand. “Will my plane park next to daddy’s?” he asked his mom. “Where will I eat my dinner if they don’t have a clubhouse?”

From the frustration of playing ten outs per inning, he soon learned that the sport was a lot more complicated than he first thought.


 

Roy never wanted Braden to live in his shadow.  In his early travel ball days, Roy insisted  Braden not wear his last name on his back – instead, the random name “WILBUR” donned his jerseys. Later, upon retirement from MLB in 2013, Roy was hesitant to become his son’s coach.

It wasn’t until Braden made the jump as a high school sophomore to varsity that he approached his father.  “I want to be as good of a team as possible,” Braden said. “I want you to help us.” Roy agreed and became the team’s pitching coach.

This turned into one of the greatest seasons of Braden’s life. After losing in the district tournament the prior season, Calvary went 30-0 and won their first state championship in team history. To share that moment with his father was even more special, he said, because it gave him more optimism towards the future of his career.

On November 6, 2017, Braden participated in a fall baseball game with his father by his side. As they drove home, Roy reflected on Braden’s career. They talked about Penn State, which Braden loved, and how Roy thought it would be a great fit for him. He told Braden how proud he was of him and how he was lucky to have raised a son like him.

The next morning, Braden woke up to a text from his father, telling him that he’d be back in town that day and they could meet after school to throw.

 That moment never came.


 

In the early afternoon of November 7, emergency services got a phone call. A plane had crashed off the coast of Tampa Bay, and it was soon revealed that one person had perished in the accident. It was Roy.

The phone call from his mother came next. Despite the emotions, he got home and instantly fell into his mother’s arms.

Braden stayed in his room for a week, trying to cope with the reality of his loss. He wanted to be alone, only allowing a couple of friends into the house at night.

Baseball was the only thing Braden looked forward to. Stepping on the mound felt therapeutic, helping him take his mind off everything else that was going on in his life. More importantly, it allowed him to keep his dad’s memory with him. It was more than just high school baseball – he heard his father’s voice in his head whenever he was pitching.

It was now Braden’s job to keep the Halladay family legacy alive, and he did not want to fail his father.


 

Braden committed to Penn State in December of 2017. He’d felt drawn to Happy Valley – he loved the campus, the coaching staff, and the feeling of excitement that it brought him. Most importantly, however, was the feeling that Braden got from his father whenever he talked about the school. He had never heard his father, who skipped college to begin his professional career, talk about another school that way. Signing with Penn State was a bittersweet moment; one that he had hoped to share with his father but couldn’t after all.

Yet before he arrived in State College, Braden got a second unexpected phone call. On June 5, 2019, the final day of the 2019 MLB Draft, he got a call from a number in Canada. On the other end of the phone was the Toronto Blue Jays, the same team that had drafted his father 24 years ago.

“We’d like to [draft you] in the 32nd round to honor your father if that’d be ok with you,” they told Halladay.

“Absolutely,” Braden said, his ecstatic family by his side. Halladay knew he was still going to college – he had told interested teams, of which there were a few, that he would not sign unless he got top-10-round money – but it was still a moment that he and his family will never forget. “I’m just happy to hear my name,” he told his mother, “but I already know where I’m going.”


 

Braden arrived on Penn State’s campus in the fall of 2019 among a large and competitive group of pitchers. He was told that he would have the opportunity to start a few midweek games alongside some lower-leverage relief as a freshman, a role that he was excited about and that would give him the opportunity to prove himself. But there was yet another unexpected twist: the COVID-19 pandemic struck and shut down nearly everything, including college baseball, less than a month into his season. Braden only threw four innings before the season ended, but his determination was undeterred.

The second year at Penn State, though, was not as he expected. Rather than returning to the role he’d expected in 2020, he not only barely got to pitch at all, but he was the only pitcher not to travel that season. For the first time, his love for playing the game was threatened. He questioned whether he had any future on the field, or with baseball at all. Despite his enthusiasm for Penn State, he decided he needed a fresh start to prove himself to others before his love for the game was completely lost.

That fresh start came at Tallahassee Community College (TCC), a junior college less than ten minutes from Florida State. A number of his high school friends attended Florida State, so the existing relationships as well as the baseball reset he got made it all worth it.

“It felt like high school all over again,” said longtime teammate and friend Sam Gordon. “I got to see a little glimpse of how he was in high school, and it was really cool to see that.” That spring, Braden was more determined than ever, and the mindset shift helped him bring the love back. Playing at a JUCO “just [felt] like baseball again,” he said, citing the lack of publicity and commotion compared to Division I ball.

However, JUCO was only one year long. If he wanted to continue to play baseball, he would have to transfer to a four-year institution.

That opportunity came at High Point University, a school with an up-and-coming athletic department and a baseball program which was eager to welcome Braden.

“They believed in me from the beginning,” he said. High Point had been the first school to recruit him during his year at TCC, pursuing him before his season even started. They gave him the opportunity to make an immediate impact in addition to taking a natural leadership role in the dugout.

“I think guys looked to him a little more because he had done it at a Power Five level,” said Gavin Weyman, who served as High Point’s Director of Player Development in 2023. “He would lead by example, and [becoming a voice] happened naturally because he would work hard. He was almost like a second voice for the coaches.”


 

Now, in 2024, Braden’s playing career is nearing its end. He is an integral part in both the dugout and on the mound, referring to himself as an “energy guy” in the dugout who helps lift the team up when they are down. Even though his numbers may not be the best, he is still seeing a brighter side through his leadership – one of many lessons his father taught him. Even though a career on the mound may not be in his future, he can see himself in an MLB front office – something that would allow him to pursue the game he loves at the highest level.

Despite the ups and downs in Braden’s career, his positive mindset has always made him a natural leader. He has faced many negatives in his life – from the passing of his father to a short tenure at Penn State to a tremendous amount of external doubt along the way – but through it all, he has made a promise to himself to stay positive. His mother, Brandy, said it best: “He has handled the highs and lows in his life with a humble heart, a positive attitude, and has never let his circumstances change his outlook on life or his future.” His baseball journey may not match his childhood dreams, but what he has become may be something even greater than he ever could have thought.

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