Philly fans rally around Howard's MVP
With city's teams struggling, slugger a breath of fresh air
PHILADELPHIA -- Fans young and old gathered outside the back dining room of Chickie and Pete's Restaurant on Monday night in South Philadelphia, craning their necks forward, just to get a glimpse through the double doors of Ryan Howard, hours after he was named National League Most Valuable Player.As Howard prepared to make his TV appearance at Chickie and Pete's, the chants of "MVP" resonated throughout the restaurant and seemed to echo over Philadelphia. He's been refreshing to a Philadelphia fandom aching for something positive. Howard's team record-setting season of 58 homers, 149 RBIs and .313 batting average was enough to persuade the Baseball Writers Association of America to select him over the Cardinals' Albert Pujols, by a total of 388 points to 347. Howard became the second player in Major League Baseball history to win the Rookie of the Year and MVP Awards in consecutive seasons, following Cal Ripken in 1982 and 1983. More importantly, Howard gave Philadelphia fans -- of all sports -- something to smile about for a change. To have a clutch player like Howard named MVP in Philadelphia's midst can only resurrect this fanbase's tattered self-esteem. "Having anyone or any team win something in this city right now means a lot," said Pete Ciarrocchi, owner of Chickie and Pete's. "The sports climate in this city has been bleak. We've had nothing to brag about before Ryan Howard did this. Ryan is the kind of pro athlete who you'd like your kid to grow up to be. You can't say that about a lot of pro athletes." Rob Delaney, 33, a lifelong Phillies fan, likes the way Howard is able to connect with the fans. He places the 27-year-old Howard in the pantheon of previous Phillie greats, like Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt, who was the last Phillie to capture the NL MVP Award, in 1986. "It means something when a young kid like this wins the MVP with all the problems Philly sports teams are having," said Delaney, who lives in Wilmington, Del. "I live and die with Philly sports teams, but the one thing about Howard is you can tell he's a winner. I'd like to see him in a Phillies uniform for the rest of his career." It was a sentiment shared by Dan Moran, 45, of Clifton Heights, Pa. "Every sports team we have is going downhill, then we get this news about Ryan Howard," Moran said. "It's huge for the city, a big boost. What's really great about Ryan Howard is that he's such a gentleman. He's at a stage of his career now that he doesn't realize how good he is. He's a real blessing to Philadelphia sports fans." Michael Barkann, an anchor for Philadelphia Comcast SportsNet, has covered Philadelphia sports for 20 years. He's seen stars come and go. He's seen the dark times, punctuated by the good times, like Howard's MVP Award. "Ryan is now officially and forever one of ours," Barkann said. "You put an MVP stamp on a player in this city and they're forever viewed differently. He has a smile that lights up a city, and you can tell that he has it all together. People in this city want a guy who will come up to bat with two outs in the ninth, down a run with the bases loaded. That's Howard -- totally unafraid of pressure." Vince Papale knows a thing or two about inspiring Philadelphia through success on the playing field. Papale, a former Eagle, in attendance Monday night to celebrate Howard's MVP Award, was the inspiration for the movie "Invincible." Papale has attended a number of charitable affairs with Howard. He's seen the genuine way the slugger interacts with fans. "It couldn't happen to a nicer, more engaging guy like Ryan," Papale said. "This city really needed a transfusion like this, someone to take their minds off of things. Ryan proves good guys really can finish first." Stephenie LaGrossa, a two-time contestant on the reality TV show Survivor, and a native of the Philadelphia area, said, "It can't get much worse for sports teams right now in this city. We have some great teams, but unfortunately, they're not doing very well. All we can go is up, all starting with Ryan Howard." Danny Smedile lives in South Philly and walks to most of the Phillies games at Citizens Bank Park. He'll be 85 on Nov. 22. He's seen seven decades of baseball -- and baseball greats. But there is one particular player Howard reminds him of in over 70 years of watching baseball. "I go to all of the Phillies games and I've seen my share of MVPs," Smedile said. "I think the player Ryan reminds me most of is Babe Ruth ... yea, Babe Ruth. I was around 12 when I first saw Ruth play at Shibe Park. They have similar swings, and the way Babe held his bat out, just like Ryan holds his bat out. ... To have this guy, it's great. We have Ryan Howard and that's a plus all of the way."
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.