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.
“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.”