CLEARWATER, Fla. - Roy Halladay has been on the road that Donovan McNabb may be traveling soon.
He was the face of a franchise, the subject of intense trade rumors that left him exhausted and disappointed. Finally, after 12 years, Halladay was traded from Toronto and the only organization he had known, and given the fresh start he felt he needed in Philadelphia.
"I would say it was more excitement than relief," Halladay said yesterday. "We were prepared to go back to Toronto. It wasn't something I was dreading. So it was more excitement. It has been a lot easier to get up and come to the field every day. Part of that is seeing the guys that are in here and knowing the potential."
The situations are similar, but hardly identical. Halladay, who turns 33 in May, was a superstar pitcher on a baseball team that never reached the postseason during his time there, and seldom had a realistic chance. McNabb, 33 last November, has been the cornerstone of the Eagles' most consistently successful decade ever.
Halladay was and is beloved, not just in Toronto, but throughout Canada. With the Expos long gone from Montreal, the Blue Jays are Canada's team. During the Olympics in Vancouver, several people noticed "Philadelphia" on my credential and asked what I thought of Halladay. They had the resigned tone of someone whose home has just been damaged by a hailstorm. They understood, but that didn't mean they had to like it.
"I loved my time in Toronto," Halladay said. "It wasn't about the same place. For me, it became about winning. I don't think I would have had a problem if we had the attitude of the guys in here and the potential to win games over there. It would have been different."
Even his staunchest supporters wouldn't use the word "beloved" to describe McNabb's relationship with Eagles fans. Let's be nice and say it is "complex" and leave it at that.
But those differences, looked at a certain way, add up to a similar situation. Halladay was well-liked but felt it was time to move on and add a championship to his personal accomplishments. McNabb is a lightning rod for fan frustration after a decade of being achingly close to a title, and it is the team, not him, that has decided it may be time to move on.
Those are two paths to the same place: a superstar athlete being at the end of a relationship with the one franchise he has come to represent.
"You always want to stay somewhere as long as you possibly can," Halladay said. "Obviously it was tough to leave. I sat down and talked with my wife. The one thing that kept coming up was, when I'm done playing the game, what are my biggest regrets going to be? I just didn't want to end my career thinking that I had the chance to win somewhere and I didn't take that opportunity. It's just something I felt I had to do."
McNabb's public statement that he would like the Eagles to make a quick decision lines up with Halladay's experience. He was the center of constant trade speculation last summer and admits it wore him down.
"You show up at 12:30 or 1 o'clock and there are already cameras at the field to watch you run," Halladay said. "There are a lot of things that you can't control and they start taking their toll. I really think it took more of a toll afterward. You spend so much energy trying to avoid those things and keep your mind on the task that, once it ends, you're a little bit wiped out."
Halladay and his family were just returning to the marina after an outing on their boat when he got the call that a trade had been worked out with the Phillies. He remembers the rush of excitement. After all those years of pitching superbly on losing teams, he was going to join a team fresh off its second World Series appearance in a row.
After throwing 98 pitches in seven smooth innings in a minor-league game in Tampa, Halladay said he felt on track to start his first season as a Phillie. He continues his legendary workout routines. The other day, he addressed the Phillies' minor-league pitchers, trying to impart some of what he learned from mentors like Pat Hentgen and Chris Carpenter.
All that's left now is to pitch the way he always does and see if it gets him to October.
By then, McNabb could be midway through his first season in St. Louis or Jacksonville or Oakland. Chances are, he won't be as excited if word comes that he has been traded. Halladay and McNabb may be traveling the same road, but you get the feeling they're headed in opposite directions.
Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844