Ryan Howard was an accomplished baseball player out of Lafayette High School, in St. Louis, Mo., yet went undrafted upon graduating. Howard honed his skills even further at Southwest Missouri State and was eventually selected in the fifth round of the 2001 draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. After spending three-and-a-half years in the minor leagues, Howard blossomed as a pro, named 2005 National League Rookie of the Year and NL MVP in 2006, joining only Cal Ripken Jr. as the only players in Major League history to win MVP Awards the year after winning the Rookie of the Year Award. Howard topped that by helping the Phillies win their second World Series championship in club history in 2008.
My greatest high school moment is easily my first varsity baseball game. I hit two homers and I think I knocked in seven—and I remember we lost (laughs). But I remember it as my greatest game because I was a sophomore and we were struggling. I went to Lafayette High School, and my parents [Ron and Cheryl] really stressed academics. It was more important for them that I get an education than do anything in sports.
A lot of people don’t realize this, because they see me today, a lot of people thought I played football in high school. But I played the trombone for the band in high school, because my mother was too afraid I’d get hurt playing football (laughs). Besides, where I grew up in St. Louis, it’s a baseball town. We’re turning Philadelphia into a baseball town, but I’d say when I started here, it was a football town.
There’s no debate about it in St. Louis, people live for the Cardinals. That’s where I got the baseball bug—that and my father.
My sophomore year I was hoping to make the varsity. I did, but got caught in a numbers crutch—yea, even in high school. When they sent me down to the jayvee in the beginning of the season, it was a little depressing. I got through it by working. My father created a batting cage in our basement, and it didn’t matter the time of day, I was down there hitting all day, every day. The neighbors knew, because it would make this loud smashing sound (laughs).
I think there are still dents in my parent’s basement walls from the balls I’d smash through the netting (laughs). But that’s how I got through that. Just work. I hit, and hit, and constantly worked on my game so if I was called up to the varsity, I’d be ready.
It didn’t take long for that chance to come. I don’t remember off hand who we were playing against, but I do remember the two bombs and the [seven] RBIs. It’s the game that gave me confidence, and it showed the coaches what I could do.
I think everyone has those kinds of games, those launching-pad games when it not only tells you, but tells everyone else there could be something there. I just remember working on my swing, my stance, going over everything constantly.
I can say it’s what helped get to this level. I went undrafted, even though I thought I had a good high school career. And it helps telling young people that if I ever had any advice for them, it’s to keep working hard and never let anyone tell you you can’t do something.
I was lucky, with two great parents, my brothers [Chris and Corey] and my sister [Roni]. They all supported me and basically told me [that] I could be anything that I wanted to be. It’s what helped me throughout high school and it’s what helped succeed at this [Major League] level.
People see me today, the home runs, that all took work. I think it’s what I’m most proud of, because no one handed me anything. I was just fortunate enough to get that foundation in high school and later in college [at Southwest Missouri State, now called Missouri State].
My other advice to young people is always be ready. I came up here behind a great player, Jim Thome. I was fortunate to learn a lot from him and you think there are times when you’re behind someone like that that you will never get your chance. But when your chance comes, you have to be ready.
That goes way back to my sophomore year at Lafayette, when I hit those homers and had that big game. It’s something I’ll never forget. Joseph Santoliquito covers high schools for the Philadelphia Daily News and is a frequent contributor to MaxPreps.com. He can be contacted at JSantoliquito@yahoo.com.