First baseman Ryan Howard is getting his groove back after making his return to the Philadelphia Phillies lineup last week against the Atlanta Braves.
His teammates have missed the All-Star slugger, who has been on the disabled list with a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered in the playoffs last season.
Howard, 32, says he’s more than ready to lead his team back into contention, but that’s not the only thing that’s on his mind.
Even though Howard won’t be stepping up to the plate Monday night at the Home Run Derby, he is in Kansas City promoting the State Farm “Go to Bat” campaign to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of America, Habitat for Humanity, Teach for America or the Red Cross.
"I used to go play pickup basketball and referee younger kids at the Boys and Girls Club, so it’s always been something that was fun to be a part of," Howard said. "[This project] allows people to go online during the Home Run Derby and vote for different charities for a chance to win $8,000 for that charity."
Playbook talked with Howard on Monday about the campaign and his outlook on the second half of the season.
Which is more exciting: the Home Run Derby or getting some Kansas City barbecue?
How about watching the Home Run Derby while eating some Kansas City barbecue?
What’s the mood like at Kaufmann Stadium?
I’m sure the mood is going to be outstanding once the Derby starts, since it’s an All-Star event. The fans are great here, and Kansas City is an awesome city to host it. I enjoy what’s going on here. It’s going to be a lot of fanfare and a lot of fun.
Who you think will win the Home Run Derby?
Ah man, it’s going to be tight. I think with Robinson [Cano] winning it last year, he’s definitely going to be a shoo-in. But I like Prince [Fielder]. I think Prince might be able to pull it out.
Do you feel fully healed and ready to help the Phillies turn their season around?
Yeah, I mean, I'm ready to be back. I wanted to come in and bat a few innings in the series with the Braves, you know … get my speed back and get to the middle of the game again, get a few days to recover and then come back for the second half ready to go.
What changes will your team need to make in order to have a run into the postseason?
I think the biggest thing is we’re just going to find a way to scratch off some runs, scratch off some wins and just focus on winning series -- and just have fun doing it. I think we can loosen up a little bit, have some fun, go out there and just kind of fly around the field and enjoy the game.