07/11/09 7:20 PM ET
Howard bringing former coach to Derby
Phillies first baseman says Spink knows his swing best
By David Gurian-Peck / MLB.com
Deron Spink, Howard's high school summer baseball coach, will be his pitcher for Monday night's event in St. Louis.
"He knows me as well as anybody, as far as hitting goes," Howard said. "So I felt kind of like it was the place where it all began, and I just wanted to ask him, because I knew he would get a kick out of it."
Howard grew up just outside St. Louis and attended Missouri State University, and throughout all that, Spink would help him with his swing. When Howard was in college, the pair worked together over holiday breaks. Even once the Phillies made him a fifth-round selection in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft, Spink came to his aid, preparing Howard for his first Spring Training.
They likely won't have time to talk strategy before reuniting on Monday's big stage. That doesn't bother Howard, who already has one Derby crown, outslugging the Mets' David Wright at PNC Park in 2006.
"For me, it's just [about] going out there and having fun," said Howard, who through Friday has 21 home runs and 63 RBIs this year. "And it's just more fun for me that he can be a part of this experience. And this will be an experience that he'll never forget."
The 29-year-old, who will be playing in his second All-Star Game, does not believe the Home Run Derby might affect his game swing. He certainly proved that in '06, when he hit .355 with 30 homers and 78 RBIs after the break.
"It's a difference when you're going out there and you know that somebody's throwing a ball at a certain speed and a certain way every single time, and you're trying to put a certain swing on it," Howard said. "Once you get back in the game speed ... the ball speeds up, slows down, curves, dips, dives, juts and dodges.
"I think that when somebody's not hitting home runs, then they blame it on the Home Run Derby. And you're not gonna necessarily go out there and hit home runs. That's why you have hot streaks [and] you have cold streaks."
David Gurian-Peck is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.