If you saw Achilles

Remembering the legendary Roy Halladay on the 10 year anniversary of Doc’s perfect game.

At some point, you start buying tickets for the names on the backs of jerseys, not the front. I can’t pinpoint the shift precisely, but personally, it happened when two markers of the passage of time converged: kids who were younger than me were making the pros, and athletes who I grew up with were leaving. The moment Ricky Rubio became the first player from the ’90s in the NBA, I knew I had to be in the bleachers for LeBron, Dirk, Kobe. When Ken Griffey Jr. retired, I started saving for upper deck tickets to see Pujols, Cabrera, Ortiz.

As sports mortality hit me for the first time, and the spectacle became the players, not the teams, Roy Halladay arrived in my division. Up until 2010, he was a legend a whole league and a country away. I’d have to cross boroughs to catch him in the Bronx, and arbitrary separations like bridges, borders and the DH made him a myth. Not all legends are historical. You can live with them; they just have to be unreachable.

And then Halladay became attainable, enjoyable with the inflated urgency of a young person considering time, joining the two-time National League champions, who I still hated because the names on the front do mean something. And so I could see Doc and boo him out of responsibility, but more importantly, I could say that I saw him pitch and acquire that fandom clout which ages best: I saw him play. I was there. He became reachable, yet no less legendary.

So I could watch Doc bend into his belt, angle and point his toes, curl his glove, and whip his arm at mitts perched on corners. And he’d do this pitch after pitch, the same contours, the same outcomes, repetition the expression of mastery. Of course, he was a master: batters waved at fastballs like they were swinging paper fans. Hide broke. Lumber fluttered. The same year he became reachable to me, he threw a perfect game, then a playoff no-hitter, and then the NL Cy Young unanimously.

Ten years to the day of his 2010 perfect game against the Marlins, Halladay slips further into lore. There will be no 34 on a Philadelphia jersey again, and so no more on-field reminders of the legendary Doc Halladay. There will be plaques and wall decals and stories—there already are. Then those of us who saw him in person will thin, and the legend will move to the modern equivalent of the epic poem: YouTube highlights. Which is good. The purpose of communication is to find a way to tell stories beyond the storyteller’s meager lifespan. Legends. Also lessons.

Though the best thing about living in the time of the myth is that you’re not stuck only with the hard lesson, not left solely with the tragedy. If you saw the hero, you’d remember the legend differently.

Khurram Kalim is a senior writer at Bronx to Bushville.

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