Roy Halladay's brilliance on the mound and sudden death had a profound impact even beyond the fans of the former Phillies ace pitcher.
His death at age 40 earlier this month also affected the scores of sports retail shops in the region that sell his merchandise and that of other Phillies.
One such retailer, Pro Image Sports — a franchise sports gift shop with 138 locations nationally and eight shops in the Philadelphia/South Jersey market — began a promotion this month to donate 100 percent of profits from Halladay memorabilia in three stores to the Roy Halladay Family Foundation.
The foundation focuses on supporting youth sports programs and animal welfare, two causes important to the Halladay family. The Pro Sports Image promo will run through Dec. 31.
The participating Pro Image Sports stores in the area are at the Deptford Mall, Gloucester Premium Outlets off Exit 7B of Route 42 in Blackwood, and next to the company's warehouse in Runnemede.
Halladay "was great to the local community, as far as giving back to the children's hospitals," said Pro Image development director Ben De Voe. "He helped bring commerce to a small business like ours. He has no idea the impact he had on stores like ours and on local vendors.
"Our stores have a symbiotic relationship with many of these athletes and teams," said De Voe. "If a team is successful, we have excited, happy fans walking into our stores buying our products. It's one of those things to give him and his family a tip of the hat from our stores."
Halladay was nicknamed "Doc" as a riff on the infamous Wild West gambler and gunfighter Doc Holliday, and for his command of his pitches, which he could locate with surgical precision. The 6-foot-6-inch hurler became a two-time Cy Young Award winner and eight-time All-Star. He pitched a perfect game for the Phillies on May 23, 2010, and a postseason no-hitter on Oct. 6, 2010.
"He was phenomenal," said Tyler McDonald, 24, of West Deptford, a diehard Phillies fan, who was checking out the Halladay merchandise at the Pro Image shop at Gloucester Premium Outlets recently. The items included Halladay's No. 34 Phillies jersey, a Bleacher Creature-stuffed animal in his image, and a drawstring bag/backpack with Halladay's name and No. 34 on it. "Watching him was like watching greatness unfold before your eyes. You realized you were watching a future Hall of Famer."
Brent Sonnek-Schmelz is the Wharton-trained co-owner of City Sports, which is to open its first store in Eatontown, N.J., next month and has a Center City shop coming next, for athletic apparel, footwear and sporting goods. "Whenever an athlete is in the news for whatever reason, interest in related merchandise goes up," he said. But with Halladay, "people love successful athletes. They connect with the athletes emotionally and want to share in their success. A big part of that is buying merchandise."
Rob Gurney, general manager of retail operations for the three Pro Image stores participating in the Halladay promotion — who also oversees the shops in Woodbury and at the King of Prussia Mall — said he got his start in sports retailing in 2008, a year before Halladay joined the Phillies – and right before what he called their "Golden Age." Halladay would play for the Phillies through 2013.
He fondly recalls the Four Aces — Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt — who fronted the Phillies' 2011 pitching rotation.
The promotion started Nov. 9, two days after Halladay's death. And by Nov. 11, a half-dozen of the plaques of the Four Aces had sold out, Gurney said. Each plaque cost $200.
McDonald, the fan, got one of the plaques two weeks ago, plus a rally towel for $9.99 with Halladay's name and number, and a $10 Roy Halladay memorial patch.
Gurney said he was in his car driving on Nov. 7 when news broke of Halladay's death after his small plane plunged into the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast.
"I heard the outpouring from fans minutes after the news, with caller after caller expressing grief over Doc's death," Gurney said. "Everyone was so sad. Some talked about how Doc brought them closer to friends and family when they bonded over games, or went to the ballpark together to watch him in action."
Gurney said his stores run on 50 percent margins, meaning they are getting back the cost of Halladay merchandise, while any money made above that as profit is going to the Halladay foundation.
Looking back, he said sports retailers who met Halladay during promotional events where he signed pictures and fans' game tickets were just as impressed by his demeanor.
"He was a great guy to be around. I heard stories of how even when he went to triple-A ball, he stuck around for hours after games to sign autographs. He was an all-round good guy. It's refreshing to see someone who not only is dominant on the field, but also down-to-earth and humble off the field.