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Ryan Howard tunes out hometown distractions

Ryan Howard tunes out hometown distractions
ST. LOUIS - When Ryan Howard comes home, he is faced with myriad distractions, including friends, family, and Albert Pujols. Demands on his time and competition with Baseball's best first baseman threaten to distract Howard.

But the Phillies first baseman and his manager insist that does not happen.

"I think he handles things pretty good," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. "He's got a pretty good handle on it. He don't get too high, and he don't get too low."

He handled the homecoming particularly well last night, hitting a grand slam in the fifth inning of the Phillies' 6-1 win over the Cardinals. It was Howard's seventh career grand slam, tying him with Mike Schmidt for the all-time franchise lead.

Howard is a St. Louis native, and when the Phillies travel here, friends and family attend the games. They also see Pujols, the Cardinals first baseman who - in addition to finishing with or close to the league lead in home runs and RBIs nearly every season - perennially exhibits stellar defense, intelligent baserunning, and excellent on-base percentages.

Howard and Pujols have finished first and second in voting for National League most valuable player in two seasons; 2006, when Howard won, and 2008, when Pujols took the award.

Howard said he would like to be viewed in the same way as Pujols, as a player who excels at every facet of the game.

"I'm an Albert Pujols fan," said Howard, who went 2 for 3 to raise his average to .293. "That's very important for me as far as what I want to do and the type of player I want to be. I don't want to be just a one-dimensional player."

Manuel sees that desire in Howard and noted the first baseman's 20-pound off-season weight loss and continued work to improve his defense with coach Sam Perlozzo.

"He has a lot of respect for Albert," Manuel said of Howard. "He looks up to Albert, and he thinks Albert is a great player. . . . He wants to be better than a guy who only hits home runs."

In addition to focusing on defense, Howard significantly reduced his strikeout total this April, compared with the same month last year. In the opening month of 2008, he fanned 37 times. This April, Howard reduced that number to 20.

"He's been staying on the ball more," Manuel said. "I think one of his biggest problems is that when he swings sometimes he misses the ball by quite a bit. He's been tracking the ball better. . . . We've talked to him about that. [Hitting coach] Milt Thompson has talked to him, and I've talked to him. He knows about all that. But as far as working on it, no. I haven't worked on it. Evidently, he's been trying to work on it in the game."

Howard will attempt to showcase those improvements before a hometown crowd this week and hopes the visit will not be his final trip to Busch Stadium this season. The All-Star Game will be staged in St. Louis in July, and Howard has a strong desire to be chosen. Manuel will manage the National League squad.

"That would be a great experience," Howard said, his eyes widening. "That would definitely be up there. I think if I made it, I would have absolutely no choice but to participate in the Home Run Derby."

Contact staff writer Andy Martino at 215-854-4874 or

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: May 5, 2009

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