Ryan Howard has been a fixture in the Phillies lineup since getting called up in 2004. But before he was a star in Philadelphia, he made his name playing Little League ball. So of course he had to get in on the Little League World Series action!
Howard has stopped in to Williamsport a few times since going pro. And he did it again today, surprising the young ballplayers as part of Subway’s Throwback Thursday #TBT campaign to benefit Little League Baseball’s Challenger teams. (Howard is a Subway Famous Fan.)
SI Kids spoke to Howard from Williamsport about his days playing Little League baseball, the current LLWS, and a certain pitcher from Philadelphia making a name for herself in the tournament.
How would you describe Williamsport to someone who’s never been?
It’s awesome. Being here for the Little League World Series – it’s the perfect place. It’s a great family atmosphere – the ballparks, the kids – everything about it screams family, and I need to take a vacation to Williamsport during the LLWS.
I understand that you’ve visited before, too. Why do you keep returning?
Well, I am here on behalf of Subway. It’s a special TBT – Throwback Thursday – that Subway is hosting for Little League Baseball. Subway is calling on fans to post throwback photos of themselves playing baseball or softball using the hashtag #littleleagueTBT, and for each posting, using the hashtag, it’ll trigger a contribution from Subway, which will help to offset travel expenses for two of the Challenger division teams for this year’s LLWS.
It sounds like a great cause. What’s the best part of returning to the LLWS?
I’ve been able to come in and check out the atmosphere and interact with the kids. I’ve been able to interact with a few teams – saw the Japanese team, the Mexican team, just met with the team from Taney. I also got to play a little bit of Wiffle ball with the team from the Northwest. So just being able to interact with the kids, talk about baseball, answer their questions, and really just hang out.
Speaking of the Taney Dragons, I know the Phillies made a video wishing them luck at the LLWS. I was wondering how closely you’ve followed the team.
Yeah, absolutely! As a team we’ve been following them. We’ll have the games on in the clubhouse whenever possible, and we’ll definitely be watching tonight when they play the Illinois team.
And what do you think about Mo’Ne Davis?
I think that what Mo’Ne’s done has been remarkable. I think she’s opened a lot of eyes and she’s definitely changed the boundaries. She’s proven it doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl, if you can play you can play and it’s all about talent.
Did you play against any girls when you played little league?
No, I did not. I mean, all the way maybe back in T-ball, but not in Little League.
How often do you think about the impact of your Little League playing days?
Oh, I think about it a lot, actually. You want to try to keep baseball at its purest form, and I think that’s where baseball was at its purest form for me was Little League. It was all about going out there and having fun, running around and enjoying my teammates, playing and being able to get dirty and not get in trouble for getting dirty – stuff like that. To me that’s the best mindset to have when you’re going out there to play the game. And I think being able to come here and being around the kids and being able to interact with them, it really just takes you back.
I know these kids are so excited to meet you. Was there a player that you looked up to or wanted to emulate when you were younger?
Oh yeah. My idols growing up were Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, and Tony Gywnn.
Was there a moment when you played little league when you realized that playing professionally was an attainable goal?
For me, no. I think people around me that watched me play – people used to come up and say, “You’re going to be in the big leagues someday.” And I just tried to stay in the moment and I just kind of thought it was whatever. It wasn’t really until I got older and I was able to get a scholarship to play college ball and then got drafted out of college was when it started to sink in that it could have been being able to be in the big leagues someday.
You spoke to the players earlier today. What tricks and tips did you give them on how to become a champion?
I didn’t give them too much. Some guys had some good questions about being nervous or how you handle this type of situation. Really, I just told them the thing about it is you have to visualize it already happening, so that when you get to that situation, or being one step ahead, so when you get to that situation it’s not a surprise and you already knew what you were going to do. And then just having fun, really.
Great. Well, you’re having a great season individually, but unfortunately the Phillies aren’t playing as well as they would like. What can kids learn from watching you and your team?
Hopefully they can watch and see that you always have to stay positive. Life, not just baseball, but life is going to throw you curve balls, no pun intended, but it’s always going to through you a curve and there will be tough times. It’s how you respond in those tough times. You have to stay positive and always try to keep a bright outlook on those times when things don’t go well. You have to take the bad as well as you take the good.
Photos: Jimmy May/Invision for SUBWAY Restaurants/AP Images
Ryan Howard Surprises Kids at Little League World Series