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07/02/07 7:38 PM ET

Howard will defend HR Derby crown

Not on All-Star team, Phils slugger invited to San Francisco

HOUSTON -- Despite not being named to the National League All-Star team, Phillies slugger Ryan Howard won't give up his State Farm Home Run Derby crown without a fight.

The reigning NL MVP, who was invited back by Major League Baseball, will participate in the July 9 event at San Francisco's AT&T Park, and hopes to be in a field with Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds, two players he grew up admiring.

"Potentially having those guys in the Derby, it would be ridiculous," Howard said. "It will be a power-packed field. I'm going to have fun, and whatever happens, happens."

Howard, who belted 24 home runs to win last year's contest, said he's going because he enjoyed the All-Star experience last year, and would step in as a replacement if needed.

"It was fun last year and an honor to be invited back, whether I'm on the team or not," Howard said.

Of course, Howard is taking Phillies bullpen coach Ramon Henderson, who has emerged as arguably the greatest Home Run Derby pitcher. Henderson is going for a three-peat, having thrown meatballs to Howard in 2006 and Bobby Abreu in '05.

"He can't go without me," said Henderson, who also threw to Miguel Tejada and David Ortiz last year. "Once I show up, five other guys will want me to throw to them."

Manager Charlie Manuel had no problem handicapping the event.

"He's the reigning champ," he said. "If you watch him take batting practice, I'd say he stands a good chance of winning the thing."

Howard deferred to the locale, saying that right-handed hitters might have an advantage.

"Because of the wind off the Bay and the wind swirls that way," Howard said.

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.