At his peak, Ryan Howard was a can't miss at bat. His moonshots that peppered the second deck of Citizens Bank Park remain the talk of legend. Yet, he was so much more to the Phillies' organization than a hulking first baseman with a penchant for the long ball. He was a genuinely nice guy that had a deep admiration for the people and city of Philadelphia.
Howard was recognized last month as the Phillies’ nominee of the 2016 Major League Baseball Roberto Clemente Award, an honor given to those that make a difference in their community.
"He is just a wonderful person, I can't stress that enough," Phillies chairman David Montgomery said. "He handled himself as the consummate professional through all the ups-and-downs on the field and nver let any of that deter his involvement with charities and the people of Philadelphia. His influence has been so positive, it will most certainly be missed."
Howard launched initiatives in Philadelphia to increase child literacy, education efforts, and often collaborated with already existing charities to provide a celebrity boost. He also played a pivotal role in growing the Phillies' RBI program and a number of other local charitable causes.
"He's one of the nicest guys in the game, no question," former teammate Jimmy Rollins said. "He understands there's more to just playing the game of baseball."
Howard will wear the Phillies' uniform one final time on Sunday afternoon as the club closes out the 2016 season at Citizens Bank Park with a contest against the playoff bound New York Mets. The 36-year-old has said he is interested in continuing his career beyond this year, but that's not a given despite clubbing 25 homers this season.
"I'm not looking to end things yet," Howard said. "I feel I still have some baseball left in me."
Fans have been frustrated with Howard at times, especially since he inked a $125 million five-year contract extension in 2010 that paid him $25 million for each of the last three seasons. Strikeouts and injuries often fanned the flames as his ability regressed substantially after he tore his left Achillies in the 2011 NLDS.
Even so, Sunday is a time to reflect on Howard's contributions as a whole.
"I think Phillies fans are smart and they generally understand what’s going on,” general manager Matt Klentak said in a media gathering two weeks ago. “And as we’ve seen the second half play out, you guys have seen a lot of it, the fans are recognizing that this is getting closer to the end and they want to express their appreciation for what Ryan has meant to this franchise.”