Howard drives ball to all fields

Updated: September 6, 2006, 1:38 PM ET
Batting practice became a sideshow as Mark McGwire closed in on Roger Maris' record in 1998, the stands filling as soon as the gates to the stands opened. McGwire would launch balls into the lower decks, the upper decks, past taco stands and McDonald's counters and beer kegs, with the awestruck bystanders providing choral accompaniment to each shot: Ooooooooooohhh.

Ryan Howard is eight homers shy of Maris' mark, and he, too, is a very big guy who hits the ball a very long way. But if your instinct is to rush to the ballpark to see him do incredible feats before the game, Phillies batting coach Milt Thompson thinks that might be a waste of time. "If you're coming to watch him hit a whole bunch of home runs in batting practice, you're going to be disappointed," Thompson said yesterday.

Howard's focus in batting practice is not to drive the ball, but to hit the ball squarely, no matter where it is thrown. If it's thrown outside, he'll just try to put a solid swing on the ball -- not with maximum effort, but with maximum efficiency -- and drive it to left field. If the ball is inside, he'll pull it. It's all about squaring the ball up. Mike Schmidt used the same approach in batting practice, Thompson recalled.