Halladay makes child's wish come true

Halladay makes wish come true

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Sean Clayton didn't have to say anything. When he spun around and saw Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay, the way the young boy's face lit up was enough to bring tears to his father's eyes.

Michael Clayton stood off to the side, watching his 13-year-old son complete a long emotional journey from a hospital bed in Montreal to the sun-drenched baseball fields at Toronto's Spring Training site. While Sean waged a life-threatening battle against leukemia, he had one simple wish: to play catch with Halladay.

On Tuesday, that wish came true. The Make-A-Wish foundation in Quebec paved the way for a meeting between Sean Clayton and his favorite Blue Jay. Now in remission and wearing a constant smile, Sean walked alongside Halladay everywhere the pitcher went.

"My son Sean is a very stoic child," Michael Clayton said. "Thank goodness, because that's what he needed when he was going through what he went through. He's not big on words, but his face told us a whole lot when he saw Roy Halladay."

Sean waited outside the Blue Jays clubhouse, standing with his family as Toronto's players prepped for Tuesday's workout and intrasquad game. Holly Purdon, the club's manager for community relations, was standing with the group and asked Sean what position he played.

Sean said he was a catcher.

"Well then I guess you need a pitcher," Purdon replied. "Will this guy do?"

Halladay had managed to walk up behind Sean Clayton without attracting his attention. Toronto's ace asked the family if he could show Sean around, and the two disappeared inside the clubhouse.

"When I met him, I couldn't believe it," Sean said. "I was shocked. He just came up behind me, and I didn't even see him and he just said, 'Hi,' and I just was shocked and I didn't know what to do."

There were times within the past two years such a moment might not have seemed possible. On May 10, 2006, Sean Clayton was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, and he was hospitalized near his home in Montreal for nearly eight months. Six of those months included chemotherapy.

In late October of that trying year, Sean's younger brother, 11-year-old Kyle, volunteered to provide Sean with a bone marrow transplant. When counselor's interviewed Kyle to see if he understood the decision he was about to make, his only response was, "Why are we wasting time?"

"Kyle's a tough little guy," Michael Clayton said with a smile.

There was a 25 percent chance that Kyle was a viable match. When it turned out he could indeed help his older brother, Sean's chances of recovering were boosted by nearly 40 percent, according to their father.

Spring Training
News and features:
• Bastian on Jays' chances in '08  400K
• Ashby on Burnett's importance  400K
• Bastian on Rios, Ryan  400K
Spring Training info:
MLB.com coverage  |  Schedule  |  Ballpark  |  Tickets

After the transplant, there was a period of rejection, but the Blue Jays helped Sean get through those hard times. Even when he was in his weakest state, Sean asked to watch Toronto's games, hoping to see Halladay complete another gem.

Michael Clayton was eager to thank Halladay for spending time with his son.

"I'll just tell him that we've followed him through Sean," Michael Clayton said. "We watched in the hospital. Sean would be having side effects from chemotherapy, but watching the game at the same time. He'd be vomiting, and I'd be holding the dish and he's saying, 'What's the next ball going to be?'"

Sean Clayton was released from the hospital in December of 2006, and he continued to receive treatment at home for roughly eight months. On Tuesday, under a sunny Florida sky, Sean was able to accompany Halladay on an empty practice field, where the pair played catch away from the crowds at the complex.

For Halladay, it was a humbling experience to know that Sean's wish was to meet the pitcher.

"It's tough to live up to, honestly," Halladay said. "It's definitely a tremendous honor to have somebody want that. It's tough. You want to do so much for him. He's a great kid, and to be able to know that that was what he wanted to do, that's special for me. I'm glad they made it."

While the Blue Jays took part in an intrasquad game, Halladay and Sean sat next to each other inside the dugout along the first-base line. The pitcher introduced Sean to the rest of Toronto's players and Sean left with three bats, some autographed baseballs, a few posters and some other memorabilia.

At the end of their visit, Sean teared up and then shared a hug with Halladay.

"The whole day he's been so excited, and I think everything kind of caught up," Halladay said. "I don't know, it's just one of those special things that happens. It's a good part of being a baseball player."

On Friday, Sean will head to Knology Park for Toronto's first home Spring Training game, and he'll serve as an honorary bat boy at the Jays home stadium on March 2. The whole trip has been a blessing to Sean's father, mother Cris, Kyle and sister Hilary -- all of whom joined him in Florida.

"We're the fortunate ones," Michael Clayton said. "We had some low points. This is very emotional for [our family]. We saw him go to the gates of hell, and it was our promise to make sure it was a return trip."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.