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"Fly In" Halladay Has A Love For The Game

03/21/2001, 12:32pm EST
By National Lacrosse League

Del Halladay represents the flip side of the pampered lifestyle of an athlete such as Pittsburgh Penguins Jaromir Jagr, who will make about $10 million U.S. this season.

It can take Ottawa Rebel captain Halladay 14 gruelling hours to fight his way from his fledgling winery in Naramata, B.C., north of Penticton, to the Corel Centre for a National Lacrosse League game. Much of the time is spent in cabs and waiting in airports for three connections.

Then, like 6-5, 255-pound teammate Bruce Alexander, an auctioneer from Victoria, he repeats the numbing odyssey in reverse.

The most Halladay can earn for a 14-game schedule this year is the league's salary cap of $15,000 U.S.

"I really don't even think about the money," says Halladay. "It's like a bonus."

Between Ottawa (0-11) and Syracuse (1-12) last season, he has won just one of his past 24 games.

This is truly a story about the love of the game.

Halladay and Alexander are known as "fly-in" guys, players such as Rebels Paul Talmo of Boston and brothers Eddie Fay of Chicago and Johnny Fay of Washington, D.C., who travel to both home and road games. Only seven Rebels live in Ottawa and two of them, Jason Tasse and Pat Collins, are from here.

Just one player on the NLL's Albany Attack is American. The team consists primarily of Southern Ontario players. They practise in Brampton each week, then travel to the New York state capital for home games, where they sometimes stay at the same hotel as their opponents.

Halladay is the Rebel's top scorer (12-18-26-44). He couldn't get here for a game against Albany Feb. 9 until an hour before the contest because of a storm. Then he had to scramble to find equipment because his was still in Vancouver.

Alexander, a key defensive player who also is third in team scoring (11-12-21-33), never made it. He got stuck in Toronto.

"Your body gets a little confused with the time-zone changes," says Halladay, 28, who is in his fourth NLL season. Syracuse was his primary destination for the past three years. He was the Syracuse Smash's leading scorer last year (12-29-20-49), before the franchise was moved to Ottawa in the fall.

"The jet lag really doesn't hit you until you get home and then you are wiped out," he says.

For all of his Russian Roulette travel efforts, Halladay, 5-10 and 180 pounds, gets to suffer through the usual litany of physical mayhem that is part of his rugged sport: concussions, shoulder separations and injuries to ribs, elbows and ankles.

"Broken fingers come with the territory," he says.

A Victoria native, Halladay has impressive credentials. He was league MVP in junior A. In senior, he was Western Lacrosse Association rookie of the year, a three-time all-star and Mann Cup champion with the Victoria Shamrocks (1997, 1999). He also was a two-time NCAA all-American at Loyola College in Baltimore.

But it's not as if he doesn't have anything else to do.

Halladay left a high-paying sales job in Vancouver and he and his wife Miranda are getting Elephant Island Orchard Wines off the ground. The winery with the acorn-shaped roof is tucked in beautiful wilderness on Okanagan Lake. It produces seven natural fruit wines (apple, pear, cherry, apricot, crabapple and two black currants). The Halladays live in a loft above the winery, a flight of stairs from work.

"We've had several tastings and some really good reviews," Halladay says.

Lacrosse means he is limited to a four-day week to work in the winery's tank room and laboratory, take care of licencing and sales and construct a tasting room and bar in time for the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival May 1.

"People don't realize the commitment the fly-in guys make," says Rebel head coach and general manager Mark Vitarelli of Peterborough. "Del leads by example and tries his hardest every night, even though he is double-teamed. When he talks, the players listen. "

Says Halladay: "I'm glad I'm still able to play because of the time of year. Sure, it would be nice to have a couple of wins but we still want to try. We're a lot younger and more inexperienced than any of the Syracuse teams.

"I love competing but it's also the camaraderie," he says. "As captain, you want to instill the things that make other teams successful.

"Bruce and I have come from the Shamrocks, the country's best senior team, to the team with the worst NLL record. Nobody's happy about being 0-11. But we are capable of beating anybody and we've seen flashes of it.

"I'm not frustrated with the team and the guys. They're doing their best. It's amazing how they've maintained a positive attitude and not given up. My frustration is that I'm not playing as well as I can.

"I see a really positive future here," says Halladay. "We're 0-11 and there are 8,000 fans who are entertained by the game, appreciate the effort and understand that in time, we'll win.

"In any other city, the stands would be empty."

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