Howard inducted into Reading HOF
Ryan Howard was happy to be back in the baseball town where his long career really took shape in a short time.
The former Phillie was at Reading’s First Energy Stadium Tuesday night to be inducted into the Reading Baseball Hall of Fame before the team’s regularly scheduled game with Hartford.
Howard, who is 38 and looks like he could still play today, reminisced about his playing days during a four-month stint at Double-A Reading, mainly about the 2004 season in which he hit .297 with then a team single-seasonal record 37 homers while driving in 102 runs in 102 games that gained him Eastern League MVP honors.
He recalled how one homer cleared the right-field fence and landed across Route 61.
The burly first baseman was then promoted to Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes-Barre and later was a September call-up to the parent club.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Howard about the 2004 season. “Obviously throughout my entire playing career, this was one of the best times for me to play baseball. There were only a few times when I felt a certain way about playing baseball. One was my sophomore year in college and the other was my time here and in 2006 in the big leagues.
“For me, it was about doing what I had to do here to make it to the big leagues.”
Howard credited current Reading manager Greg Legg, who was his manager then, and hitting coach John Morris for his successful season.
“It wasn’t that my swing had changed that much,” said Howard. “This was before we had all those shifts we have now. John Morris played an integral role. He had a way for guys to figure it out on their own.”
Howard noted how the signing of future Hall of Fame first baseman Jim Thome in 2002 actually better paced his ascent into a starting role and a 58-homer season in 2006 that gained him the NL MVP.
“As I was going through the minor league and they signed Thome, I knew then that I wasn’t going to be rushed and my path was slightly blocked,” Howard said. “I had a decision to make right then and there to either be mad or focus on getting to the Phillies or with someone else. I knew I could take my time, and I wanted to develop my game at each level.”
Reading fans showed their appreciation for Howard, as seemingly a sea of red and white t-shirts and jerseys with his number 6 comprised the sellout crowd of more than 9,000, and his bobble head giveaway also soon gone.
“It was great to play in front of sellout crowds and the atmosphere here itself always was very electric,” said Howard, who attended Missouri State University. “In college, we had fans, but it is nothing to the point to where it is here in Baseballtown. Being able to play in front of close to 10,000 was something that always stuck with me.
“It was cool to be inducted and great to come back because it brings back so many different memories.”
Howard has enjoyed the past few weeks as the Phillies recently honored the anniversary of the 2008 championship team on which he hit a major-league high 48 homers and led baseball with 146 RBIs.
He sees former teammate and current Dodger Chase Utley as a perfect mentor for some of LA’s budding stars.
“Chase is a great mentor and you can see it in some of their younger guys like Cody Bellinger’s play,” he said. “I’m not surprised. Chase adds a lot of toughness and has a wealth of knowledge. You can definitely see improvement in their play.”
Howard also has been keeping abreast of the current Phillies’ run for the division title and the postseason. Ironically, Howard had a brief minor league stint with the Braves in May 2017 after his Phillies’ career ended a year earlier.
“I have been following the guys,” he said. “They are in a great battle with the Braves and it is going to be fun to watch them down the stretch. Rhys Hoskins had a great plate presence and Aaron Nola is coming into his own and developing like everyone thought he would.
“Baseball with the Phillies and here [in Reading] is fun to watch.”
For a few months in 2004, Howard made baseball a blast in Baseballtown.