Ryan Howard did his best to hold back the emotion throughout his entire “farewell tour,” but it finally caught up with him during a moving tribute before his final game with the Phillies on Sunday (see Instant Replay).
Howard’s voice cracked and he welled up as he addressed the crowd of 36,935 at Citizens Bank Park.
“I'm just a laid-back cat from St. Louis out here trying to play ball,” Howard told the crowd, which stood and showered him with appreciation throughout the tribute. “That's it. It's been fun, man, these last 12 years. You guys all made it possible.
“The Phillies, I want to thank you guys for taking a kid in the fifth round out of, well now it's Missouri State, but Southwest Missouri State University and giving me the opportunity.
“This city as a whole, man. I want to thank you because I've grown with all of you. My family has grown with all of you.”
Howard paused to collect himself.
“On behalf of my teammates, I want to thank you guys for coming out and supporting us all year,” he said. “I know it's been up and down and crazy, but these guys have really worked their butts off to try to be the best that they can be each day and each night on this field. To my teammates, I salute you.”
Howard concluded his remarks to the crowd.
“I don't really have too much more than that,” he said. “This is great. Thank you again from the bottom of my heart.”
The “this” that Howard referred to was the entire pre-game ceremony, which was brilliantly performed. Howard’s greatest moments were captured on a moving video tribute that was produced by team videographer Dan Stephenson. David Montgomery and John Middleton, both members of the Phillies ownership group, presented Howard with a hand-painted first baseman’s mitt depicting Howard’s image and listing his accomplishments, from National League Most Valuable Player to World Series Champion.
A bronze plaque was unveiled by Howard’s son, Darian. The plaque recognizes Howard’s club record 58 homers in 2006 and will be placed in the spot where the ball landed in the left field seats. Howard was also given a plaque from the previous record holder, Mike Schmidt, making the presentation.
The Phillies will not pick up the option on Howard’s contract for 2017 and he will be eligible for free agency later this fall. He was the last member of the 2008 World Series championship team still on the club.
Howard took out the lineup card before the game. He started at first base and batted fifth. He went hitless in four at-bats (the Phillies beat the Mets, 5-2) and left the game in the ninth inning to a standing ovation and hugs from his teammates. A message flashed on the video board. It read: “Thank you, Ryan.”