Ryan Howard did more than hit a three-run homer and drive in four runs for the BlueClaws in their victory over Hagerstown Wednesday. He also did more than draw a season high 8,036 fans to FirstEnergy Park along with causing a media frenzy. Howard did all those things Wednesday as he returned to Lakewood for the first time since playing the 2002 season with the BlueClaws. As Howard strolled to the plate for the first time the theme song from Welcome Back Kotter blared over the PA system as the fans received him with quite an ovation. Howard’s return to Lakewood provided excitement for the crowd and the media, but he offered more than his on field performance to the current BlueClaw team. He provided a glimpse into the life of a Major League ballplayer for his BlueClaw teammates.
As Ryan Howard arrived in Lakewood on Tuesday for a brief workout, many of the current players were in awe of the reigning National League MVP. That was evident in Wednesdays game as starting pitcher Darren Byrd struggled through some early game jitters before settling down and throwing a solid game. “It was really exciting, it was tough finding my rhythm early,” said Byrd on his start with Howard in the lineup. Many of the players didn’t know what to expect with Howard coming to town but they soon found out he was just like them. “He just jumped right in and was part of the team just like us,” said shortstop Jason Donald. It certainly seemed like the BlueClaws fed off the excitement Howard brought to FirstEnergy Park. “The buzz and the atmosphere was great, we were able to feed off the energy,” said Donald about Howard’s presence. Howard’s presence led to a solid effort by the BlueClaws en route to a 7-4 victory.
Howard did more than lead the BlueClaws to victory; he gave the players a valuable experience. Manager Steve Roadcap enjoyed penciling Howard’s name into the lineup and he hoped his current players learned something from Howard’s presence. “I hope they learn by watching him and the way he goes about his business,” said Roadcap. The players took in the events of the day and reflected on them following the game. “The lights, the cameras, and the reporters are things we see on ESPN, but it was fun to experience it first hand,” said second baseman Adrian Cardenas who extended the first inning with a two out double bringing Howard to the plate. “It gives you a peek at the everyday life of a big league ballplayer,” said Jason Donald about the hoopla surrounding Howard. “It was great to see Ryan having a good time, but at the same time he was able to put the fun aside and lock in on his at bats,” commented Julian Williams on Howard’s approach to the game.
As the players attempted to learn from Ryan Howard, he offered some words of wisdom to them. “I told them about the little things I’ve learned along the way and the little ins and outs of the game,” said Howard on his experience with the younger players who’s shoes he was in only five years ago. “This really puts things in perspective,” said Howard on his reflection of playing with the BlueClaws as he started his ascent to the Majors. “It felt good to be back where it all started,” said Howard. Although Howard did offer some of his advice, most of his talk was with his actions. “The way he carries himself is advice enough,” said Cardenas on the learning experience.
Howard’s return to Lakewood was fun for all involved, from the fans, media, players, coaches, and even Ryan Howard. “It was fun for everybody,” said Howard. “Its something they’ll never forget,” said Steve Roadcap on the day that was. Howard will be in the lineup Thursday night for the final game of a four-game set against Hagerstown. Lakewood will be looking to extend their four-game winning streak with Howard in the lineup. Howard was the Designated Hitter Wednesday but will play first base Thursday night prior to his return to the Phillies on Friday.