Jays would miss Halladay on and off the field

During the fifth inning of Saturday afternoon’s Blue Jays broadcast, radio play-by-play man Jerry Howarth welcomed a special guest. Brandy Halladay would be on the air to promote the Lady Jays Food Drive, a charitable effort that she leads along with the wives and girlfriends of other Toronto players.

It didn’t take long for the conversation to weave around to You Know What.

“I really hope the fans know that the Blue Jays have been amazing for us,” Brandy Halladay said on The FAN 590, as her husband’s team worked toward a 6-2 victory over the Red Sox. “We stand behind them 110 percent. They have absolutely done right by us.

“J.P. (Ricciardi) has gone above and beyond what a general manager would normally do. We’re very grateful for the opportunities he’s given us and that he is presenting us in the future. Whatever happens will be best for the Blue Jays and good for us, too. I’m excited for everybody all around.”

Later, she added: “This very well could be our last homestand. We’re leaving on Monday. If something happens before trade deadline, I won’t be back. That’s difficult. That’s more than difficult. I just broke into tears four minutes ago. … It’s very difficult for everybody. … You’re making me cry now.”

Then she laughed a little. A few minutes later, the interview circled back to the initial premise. Even then, there was an elevated emotion about it all. Brandy Halladay said fans — a greater number than usual — had been approaching her to express their gratitude as they left their nonperishables outside the stadium.

It’s a safe assumption that not every “thank you” was for the food drive.

“I’ve been here a long time, and I love this team,” Brandy Halladay told Howarth and analyst Alan Ashby. “I love this city. I’m so familiar with the people in the stadium, as well as the fans. So many of them come up, and I know them, too. It’s very comfortable for me.”

Brandy’s well-known husband, Roy, debuted with the Blue Jays in 1998. He has given the organization a lot of wins, a lot of donations and a lot of volunteer time since. So, the hellos and handshakes are lasting a little longer at Rogers Centre these days. No one knows what July 31, and the nonwaiver trade deadline, will bring.

But I can confidently report that Roy Halladay is expected to start Sunday’s game against Boston. He is supposed to throw the first pitch at 1:07 p.m. If he remains on schedule — and remains a Blue Jay — he has one more home start between now and July 31.

Beyond that? Let’s be honest. Pretty much anything could happen. Or not.

“The only way he’s going to be traded is if we are overwhelmed,” Paul Beeston, the interim team president, said Saturday. “These are probably the wrong terms to use, but it’s got to hurt the other team in order to make sense for us.

“We are not looking to move Doc. The only way it’s going to happen is if it makes complete, rational sense. This guy is a real quality human being. It’s unfortunate that it’s out there, the conjecture about his future. He doesn’t need it. The ballclub doesn’t need it.

“If it happens, it’s going to be a sad day for the Jays, but the right thing for our future.”

Roy Halladay, to his credit, patiently responded to the sometimes-repetitive media inquiries during last week’s All-Star festivities in St. Louis, but he’s not offering daily trade updates any longer. That is perfectly understandable. He seems to be focusing his attention — to the extent that he can — on three very important things: his family, his pitching and people in need.

So, on Sunday morning, the door to his stadium suite at Rogers Centre will open, and several children selected through the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation will walk in. Their families will be with them. Over the next few hours, they will be able to look at a large, full-color scoreboard with numbers that have nothing to do with blood glucose readings.

Halladay plans to open the suite — known as “Doc’s Box” — nine times this season, a new high for the program. On six occasions, the young fans will come from The Toronto Hospital for Sick Children.

“He has a special place in his heart for children,” said Danielle Silverstein, executive director of the Jays Care Foundation. “He’s really, really good with kids. I’ve never seen him refuse a child — a moment to talk, an autograph, anything.

“Roy is special. He gets it. He’s appreciative for everything he has. He’s grateful to have two healthy boys at home. He will do whatever he can to help make someone else’s life better.”

Notice a theme here? Some ballplayers crave the bright lights and celebrity lifestyles. Well, Roy and Brandy Halladay aspire to help sick kids and hungry people.

Replacing Halladay in the rotation might be easier than finding someone with his personal qualities.

“I told Brandy yesterday,” Silverstein said Saturday, “that our standard Jays Care response to this is to put our fingers in our ears and say, ‘LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA.'”

The reality, though, is that the Jays are probably going to be stuck in fourth place for the rest of this season.

Halladay is under contract through 2010, seems unlikely to re-sign after that, and would like to pitch for a postseason-bound team, which is the basis for any case to deal him. Apart from that, Ricciardi is said to be listening to offers on every position player with the exception of Aaron Hill and Adam Lind, not to mention virtually the entire bullpen.

Cito Gaston is presently using a four-man rotation — Halladay and a trio of young left-handers. Can’t think of the others off the top of your head? Well, I suppose that’s understandable, seeing as how none of them pitched in the majors before this year: Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil and Marc Rzepczynski, who earned his first big-league victory Saturday.

Since I know you’re curious: The name is pronounced zep-CHIN-ski. Doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily as Halladay, does it? But the fans here may have little choice but to learn it quickly.

Now that Mats Sundin is no longer a Maple Leaf, the case could be made that Halladay is the most popular active athlete in Canada’s largest city. Beeston said the Jays would need to receive multiple players with “huge potential” in order to part with him.

“He’s never broken the trust with the fans — ever,” Beeston said. “He’s been a model player and citizen. You’re talking about a special person here. … I’m almost reluctant to talk about (the possibility of trading him), because the fan in me says this is a thing I’d never want to do.”

Sunday afternoon’s game could offer a unique atmosphere. Over the weekend, the Rogers Centre scout section has included former Blue Jays general managers Pat Gillick and Gord Ash. Both are currently working for teams — the Phillies and Brewers, respectively — who are in the market for a veteran starting pitcher. And there is no such thing as a coincidental scouting trip in mid-July.

Oh, and the food drive also ends Sunday. As Toronto fans move toward the turnstiles, they will have one more chance to give. A few hours later, they will have one more chance to give thanks. And time will tell if it’s also their last.