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September 29, 2016

Saying goodbye? Phillies to honor Ryan Howard at Citizens Bank Park Sunday

If you’re holding a ticket for Sunday’s Phillies game, the final game of the 2016 season and Fan Appreciation Day at Citizens Bank Park, you’ll probably want to leave your house a little earlier to ensure you’re in your seat a half hour before first pitch.

The Phillies will have a “special pre-game presentation” to Ryan Howard, set to begin at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. The matinee between the Phillies and Mets begins at 3:05 p.m., with gates opening at 1:05 p.m.

It will be Howard's final day in a Phillies uniform.

Howard, who turns 37 in November, will file for free agency for the first time in his professional career following the World Series. Drafted by the Phillies with their fifth round selection in the 2001 draft, Howard has hit .258 with an .859 OPS, 381 home runs, and 1,192 RBI in 1,569 games in 13 big league seasons, all with the Phillies.

Howard is in the final guaranteed year of his five-year, $125 million contract, a deal that includes a club option for 2017. But it’s a foregone conclusion that the Phillies will instead exercise the $10 million buyout clause, making Howard a free agent.

Since they cannot make that 2017 roster decision until after the World Series, the Phillies are in a bit of a peculiar situation in trying to honor Howard this weekend. But since everyone knows what’s coming – from the front office and coaching staff, to the fans, to Howard himself – it’s not surprising the Phillies have been advertising the upcoming weekend as a chance to say goodbye to the former MVP slugger.

At the beginning of the Phillies current road trip, manager Pete Mackanin, who first joined the coaching staff in 2009, was asked for his favorite memory of Howard. Mackanin didn’t have one moment, but, instead said he has appreciated Howard’s presence as a gamer.

“The first thing that comes to my mind when you talk about Howard, and what has impressed me the most about him, seeing him for seven years, he comes to play and he never doesn’t want to play,” Mackanin said. “He always wants to play. … And that’s the thing that impresses me a lot about him. And of course I never saw him the years he was hitting 50 home runs and 150 RBI, I never saw him then, but in ’09 and ’10 I saw a pretty good hitter there.

“There isn’t one moment that has impressed me as much as just the fact that he’s a gamer who likes to play, who doesn’t make excuses, who is accountable, all the things you want from a player. He’s got a short memory. The guy can strike four times in a game and it doesn’t phase him, which is important. He doesn’t let it affect him.”

“To want to play everyday and not want time off, even in the middle of a slump, to go out there and battle his way out instead of maybe I need a day off or so, he didn’t do that, and it didn’t matter who was pitching, a lefty or a righty, he wants to play. And that’s invaluable as far as I’m concerned. … He never feels sorry for himself. Just a true professional. ‘I’m paid to play and I’m going to keep fighting.’”

Howard enters the final four games of the season hitting .194 with a .705 OPS, 24 home runs, and 57 RBI in 109 games this season.

Howard’s 24 home runs (in 319 at-bats) are the most he’s had in a season since hitting 33 in 2011. He hit 23 in each of the last two seasons (in 467 at-bats last year, in 569 at-bats in 2014).

Howard's 2016 season began dreadfully. He hit .101 in May and lost his starting job to Tommy Joseph. But since June 23, a span of three months, Howard has hit .257 with 14 home runs, and a .917 OPS in 51 games.

Howard is expected to start all three games against the Mets in the final series of the 2016 season for the Phillies. It’s uncertain what the Phillies have planned for his “special pre-game presentation,” but as with Chase Utley’s return last month, the sendoff Howard receives is really up to the people buying tickets to games this weekend.

The Phillies can give Howard an oil painting or put his picture and stats on Phanavision before the game, but it’ll be up to the fans to take care of the standing ovations and curtain calls.

“I think Phillies fans are smart and they know and generally understand what’s going on,” general manager Matt Klentak said earlier this month, after Mackanin said he planned to play Howard in more home games in a salute to his first baseman’s career. “I think as we’ve seen the second half play out, and you guys have seen it, I think fans are, every time Howard comes to the plate, they’re recognizing that maybe it’s getting closer to the end. They want to express their appreciation for what Ryan has meant to this franchise. And my hope would be in the final homestand, those last three games against the Mets at the end, we’ll be able to do something to make sure that Ryan gets the proper end to the season that he deserves.”

Said Mackanin: “I hope they give him as much as they gave (Utley and Jimmy Rollins). He’s really meant a lot to this organization.”

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21