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Mr. Big Time

Howard's power surge has NL's, Schmidt's attention

Posted: Tuesday September 12, 2006 2:20PM; Updated: Tuesday September 12, 2006 2:48PM
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With 56 homers, Ryan Howard is running away with the NL home run race.
With 56 homers, Ryan Howard is running away with the NL home run race.

"It's a freakin' card show here," says Ryan Howard, gazing wearily at a table in the middle of the visitors' clubhouse at Dolphin Stadium. It's three hours before game time on a sultry Sunday morning in South Florida, and in front of baseball's new home run king are six glossy photos of the Phillies first baseman, laid out side by side, and two boxes of new baseballs. Howard sighs as he leans in, pen in hand, to start signing. "Get used to it," a clubhouse attendant mutters.

The spotlight on baseball's next great home run hitter grows every day. "I usually go to bed by 10, after the fourth or fifth inning," said Mike Schmidt, who dropped in on the Phillies over the weekend in Miami. "Now I have to stay up to see what the kid is going to do in his next at-bat."

"He's every bit as good a hitter as Barry Bonds was in the middle of his 73-home-run season," said Schmidt on Sunday in Miami, standing outside the Phillies' locker room with a small group of reporters. "It'll take the opposition a little longer to be convinced that he is because of Bonds' history of being a great hitter for many, many years."

Howard may start getting the Bonds Treatment just about now. On Saturday, a day after he stroked two home runs in a 3-2 Philly win, Marlins manager Joe Girardi walked the slugger with one out and one on in the ninth to put the tying run in scoring position. (Jeff Conine singled off Joe Borowski and drove in the tying run.) Girardi walked Howard again in the 10th, this time with two outs and to load the bases. (The Marlins got out of the inning and won the game in the bottom of the inning.)

"As time goes on, it looks like he won't get to do much hitting in crucial situations," Schmidt said. "I was talking to [Phillies manager] Charlie [Manuel]. Ryan probably won't hit another big home run this year. He probably won't get another big hit the rest of this year. I fear that he'll have no chance of doing it this year, because he's too good."

Added Schmidt, "Right at this moment in time, he might be more dangerous than Barry Bonds ever was in his prime. I've never seen anyone in the major leagues who is treating the game almost like an oversized kid in the Little League World Series. He is transcending the game."

While making the Bonds comparisons, it is easy to overlook that while the Giants slugger was nearing 40 when he began his otherworldly power surge, Howard turns 27 in late November. "That's the amazing thing," says Florida's Borowski. "He's played, what, one season before this year? Think of what more there is to come. Unbelievable."