He might be 36-years-old, overpaid, in the final year of his mega-contract and a relic of an era gone by, but Ryan Howard is still an important part of the Phillies.
With the rebuilding process in full effect, a slew of young and unproven players are using the same lockers once inhabited by Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels. Young players like third baseman MaikelFranco are enthused to be able to rub shoulders with Howard, a former NL MVP and 2008 World Series champion.
"I know Howard has been around in the big leagues for 10, 11 years," Franco, whose hot spring training has become a hot start to April at the plate."He's the guy that can talk about everything, he helps you get confident, I am glad he is there.
"I talk about hitting with him and he's the guy who can bring energy and help me mentally."
Howard's shortcomings have been widely discussed. The $25 million man is hitting just .211 through seven games and has two homers -- after batting .229 with 23 dingers in 2015. Phillies manager Pete Mackanin famously decided that Howard's days facing left-handed pitchers are over, relegating the three-time All-Star to a platoon role with Darin Ruf.
"My focus is trying to take advantage of my opportunities when I can get it," Howard said, flashing his positive outlook after a 4-3 loss to the Padres Tuesday,"and that's it, really. Focusing on the game and trying to go out there and get hits."
With the bases loaded and no one out, Mackanin pinch hit for the 2005 Rookie of the Year, and saw Ruf pop into a (bizarre) double play and later make a pair of mistakes manning first base. Did it irk Howard?
"Your competitive nature makes you wan to be up in those situations but it is what it is," Howard, who got a standing ovation when he entered the Phils' home opener last alongside Carlos Ruiz, said."I wantto do what I can do to try and win ball games."
In addition to an occasional bomb at the plate -- reminiscent of the glory days of The Big Piece's 45+ home run, 135+ RBI days of years past -- is his tutelage for the Francos, Herreras and Goeddels of the squad. Howard's value as elder statesman is perhaps underrated (though probably not worth the $25 million he'll make this season).
"The guys are learning, they're getting more experience," Howard said. "The onlyway you can get experience is to be out there playing. They are taking to it, the attitude around here is great, the energy is great. I think we're going to win a lot more ballgames than people think."
Howard is a candidate to be moved to an American League team toward the trade deadline where he can contribute as a designated hitter. But until then, fans and teammates alike should embrace what Howard has to offer. The team is committed either way.