June 06, 2016
Five days earlier, he was told he’d be out of the Phillies starting lineup for at least three or four games (and possibly longer). Less than 48 hours earlier, he returned to the clubhouse after his fourth day of that aforementioned break ticked off after a fan heaved a beer bottle at him from the stands.
Yet, somehow, through a trying time when he’s had to stare at his MLB-low batting average, the affect his declining skills have had on his playing time, and how at least some of the fan base has reacted, Howard wore a smile while sitting at his locker stall on Monday afternoon. Howard, who was held out of the Phillies lineup for the sixth straight game, even jokingly grabbed a reporter's glasses and put them on for an easy laugh.
"I don’t want to be a distraction for these other 24 guys in here. Because to me it’s always been about playing baseball, and that’s it. So, I have to take care of what I have to take care of, and I don’t want to bring any extra burdens on these guys."
“Man, you just have to stay positive.” Howard said. “That’s all. I mean, it’s easy to get down, it’s easy to be miserable. It’s easy to be miserable. You just have to stay with a positive mindset, a positive attitude. Because being miserable, what good is going to come out of that, you know what I mean?”
Howard will return to the Phillies lineup for the first time in a week on Tuesday, manager Pete Mackanin said. It might not be much longer after that that the manager said he’ll be forced to make a permanent decision on the first base dilemma, perhaps with Howard transitioning full-time to a complementary bench role in favor of rookie Tommy Joseph.
The 24-year-old Joseph, a catching prospect who had to transition to first base after a series of concussions, is hitting .298 with four home runs and an .844 OPS in 18 games since being called up from Triple-A last month. Since his regular first base audition began on Wednesday, Joseph has hit .350 (7-for-20) with a home run, a double, and two RBI.
Joseph has a fan in the guy he sent to the bench.
“Scorpion,” Howard said. “That’s my nickname for him. (Because) he’s from Phoenix. We’ll work on it. We’ll work on it. He likes it right now. But, yeah, he’s been great, man. He’s had great at-bats. Really just taking it all in stride. He’s been doing a great job.”
Howard was again asked about his positive disposition. Is it because no good comes from a situation like this if you’re not the one to take the proverbial high road?
“Yeah, I guess,” he said. “I mean, to me, I don’t want to be a distraction for these other 24 guys in here. Because to me it’s always been about playing baseball, and that’s it. So, I have to take care of what I have to take care of, and I don’t want to bring any extra burdens on these guys. Because they work hard, I know how hard they work. They don’t deserve it.”
Howard was asked what would happen if it became a distraction down the road, perhaps when Mackanin makes a final decision on how he plans to handle the first base position over the season’s final four months.
“Then I guess you’ve got to deal with it,” Howard said. “I mean I’m not trying to make anything into a distraction or anything like that.”
Howard was then reminded of the throng of reporters – the second wave in a 10-minute span on Monday – and how it’s difficult for them to ignore the former MVP routinely out of the lineup.
“I mean, yeah it’s newsworthy, noteworthy, all of that kind of stuff – as long as you try to make it (that way),” he said. “For me, I don’t focus on all of that stuff. I understand it’s going to be news and people are going to talk about it or whatever, but, I’m not trying to put my focus there; I’m trying to put my focus on what I need to do to get back to where I need to be to be able to play and play at a high level.”
And until then, he’ll wear a smile. And someone else’s glasses, if it brings a much-needed comic relief to what Mackanin himself called a “delicate situation.”
“That’s just always been me, personally,” Howard said. “Like, I can’t speak for other (veterans players in the last few years) and what they’ve said. We’re all different. That’s just always been my mindset. Every time I’ve ever played baseball, from Little League on up. So, I just always try to keep it positive. Playing the game, and trying to have fun doing it.”