Ryan Howard stood up to leave his first spring training press conference of the year. "All right guys," he said to the gathered media. "Let's have a good year."
This was after an awkward few minutes in which the 36-year-old first baseman, entering his 13th year with the Phillies, seemed prickly while answering questions on his future, his ability to hit lefties, and his relationship with the local media. He praised the team's new members and said he was excited to play with them, but what everyone will take away from this conversation is the - what some might call righteous - anger.
"Last year was a tough year," Howard admitted. "I wasn't happy with the media... To be honest with you guys, I felt like I was being portrayed as the bad guy. When y'all know me, you know how I'm always joking and upbeat and stuff. I didn't have a problem at all with my teammates. That's why I didn't talk to y'all last year. It was more of a personal thing for me."
Howard wouldn't get into specifics, and when pressed, said that his issue wasn't with everyone in the room. But this was not the grinning Big Piece we've seen show up to spring training in the past.
I realize professionals making lots of money, but this must be unpleasant to google yourself and see pic.twitter.com/HdLjL7JNsT— Matt Winkelman (@Matt_Winkelman) February 23, 2016
"Last year's in the past, man," he repeated several times. "I didn't do this last year, I didn't even talk to you guys last year. I just think the way that stuff was handled, the way that stuff was reported, all that kind of stuff. Just a lot of stuff. I'm gonna just leave at that because... I didn't like it."
The slugger has been in decline after being a, well, big piece of the Phillies' years as division champions from 2007-2011. Undoubtedly, he has struggled at the plate as well as off the field. "I'm still playing baseball. I'm still here," he said. "For me, I've got a job to do. I stay in the here, I stay in the now, and all that other stuff takes cares of itself as it's supposed to."
Howard did not sound like someone who believed he was about to begin his last year in professional baseball. "I think Moyer's out there trying to play somewhere. And I think he's one of the guys where he's the epitome of that. Moyer played through his mid-forties. I think if you go and you can take care of yourself and continue to be productive, why not? Why not play as long as you want?" (Former Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer retired in 2013 at the age of 50 after considering returning as a knuckleballer).
Naturally, the subject of Howard's familial issues came up. "That kind of stuff is just life. You have stuff that happens in life that comes up and you gotta deal with it... For me, in the off-season, it's a good time to be able to kind of do what I need training-wise and be a little focused on it at that time. But then once camp and everything starts, then it's time to focus on camp."
"Baseball becomes a great getaway for all that kind of stuff," Howard said.
Whatever led to Howard's frustration, he made it clear that he was trying to get beyond it. "It's 2016, and we're moving forward," he said. Clearly, we'll proceed with caution.
Yeah, I kind of wanted this season to be a nice going-away season for Howard, but this isn't going well. https://t.co/Lmx4w6StYh— John Stolnis (@FelskeFiles) February 23, 2016