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Success hasn't spoiled the modest Howard

March 25, 2007|From the Associated Press

CLEARWATER, FLA. — The three words -- discipline, respect, confidence -- tattooed on Ryan Howard's right upper arm represent more than simple body art. The reigning NL MVP practices each principle in his daily life on and off the field.

Howard followed up winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2005 with perhaps the best season ever by a sophomore player, swatting 58 homers with 149 RBIs and a .313 average for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Success hasn't changed the soft-spoken big man. Howard still walks around the clubhouse more humble than a rookie trying to earn a roster spot.

If you want ego, look elsewhere. The slugging first baseman is down-to-earth, always accessible and quite modest. After a recent game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, he joked that a reporter wearing a Steelers shirt shouldn't be allowed into the locker room. A few minutes later, he invited the guy to a local bar that was having an '80s night.

"Bring your wig," Howard said.

While many star players shy away from autograph-seekers, Howard often is seen signing balls and assorted items for youngsters. He's cordial with fans and anyone he meets.

When the Phillies held a hitting contest for the media last month, Howard was among five players who came out to witness the sad spectacle, offer hitting tips and conduct interviews in a role reversal with reporters.

Imagine Barry Bonds playfully grabbing a microphone and asking writers questions. Wouldn't happen.

Everyone who knows Howard credits his parents, Ron and Cheryl, for raising their son the right way. His mother isn't a big fan of the tattoos, but there's meaning behind them.

"These three words are kind of the words I live by," Howard said. "You're not just getting it to have a tattoo. You are getting it because it means something to you and you want to put it on your body. It's kind of a reminder about certain things."

D-I-S-C-I-P-L-I-N-E:

"What's extraordinary about a kid that hasn't had a whole lot of major league service time is how he continues to work at his craft to become a better player not just offensively but defensively," assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "He wants to be as good as he can possibly be and that takes a lot of discipline. I'm sure he has even loftier goals, even after the year he had."

R-E-S-P-E-C-T:

"His parents taught him to give respect and he's done a very good job as a professional," veteran pitcher Tom Gordon said. "I think it'll only get better because he'll start to understand himself more and everything his family taught him will come out of it.

"It's a tough world we live in. Kids every day struggle with one parent or no parents. It's very important for a father to be there for his son through all his adversities and his dad is there. He's been an example for him."

C-O-N-F-I-D-E-N-C-E:

"I tease him all the time because he doesn't think he's supposed to make an out," hitting coach Milt Thompson said. "There isn't too many players with that kind of confidence. I tell guys you don't get into an on-deck circle hoping to get a hit. You just know you can hit. If you are successful three out of 10 times, you're a great player. This game is built on failure if you look at the percentages. He knows he can play."

Howard grew up near St. Louis in a middle-class family. His parents encouraged him to do his best at everything whether it was playing sports or the trombone in the marching band. Both parents remain actively involved in his life, though sometimes it can lead to revelations that would be better kept in family.

Howard took some razzing from teammates when his mother recently said in a television interview that she gets his checks and gives him an allowance.

"Everybody makes it a running joke about me being on an allowance, but basically she just handles my finances," he said. "If I want to get something, I get it. Basically it's being on a budget. Just the word that was used was allowance and that's what everybody makes a big deal out of."

Howard has plenty of money to spend and could cash in with a multimillion-dollar contract soon. He got a $900,000 one-year deal earlier this month after his agent and the Phillies failed to agree on a long-term contract. The figure matched St. Louis' Albert Pujols for the highest base salary in a one-year deal for a player not eligible for arbitration.

It's likely Howard will command a salary worth more than $100 million over six or seven years. For now, he's probably baseball's best bargain. And, he isn't complaining.

"The whole contract situation is done," Howard said. "I get paid to put on a uniform and perform. Now, you try to go out and win the team a championship."

Howard proved he's a special player by almost single-handedly catapulting the Phillies into the playoff race after a poor start and several trades left the team looking up in the standings.

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