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Jim Salisbury | MVP Howard takes well-deserved bows

BOSTON - Ryan Howard spent the summer bashing baseballs and making Phillies fans stand and chant "MVP . . . MVP . . . MVP."

BOSTON - Ryan Howard spent the summer bashing baseballs and making Phillies fans stand and chant "MVP . . . MVP . . . MVP."

Now, he's taking some well-deserved bows.

This weekend, he'll be honored in Kansas City, Mo. Then come St. Louis and New York, where he'll officially receive his 2006 National League most valuable player award. Before hearing his first standing ovation in spring training, the big fella will be feted in Philadelphia.

Howard's winter tour kicked off last night at the 68th annual Boston Baseball Writers dinner, where he was honored with the Ted Williams Award, given annually by the Boston scribes to the best hitter in the game.

Some athletes dodge the winter banquet circuit, especially when it requires travel, but Howard wasn't missing this trip. He even took in a Celtics game - "Floor seats," he said with wide-eyed excitement - on Wednesday night.

"Getting this award is special," said Howard, who hit .313 and led the majors with 58 homers and 149 RBIs in 2006. "First of all, it's named after one of the greatest hitters ever, Ted Williams. Not only that, it's in Boston. I mean, they're not even in the National League, so it's not like they see us all the time. It's really a humbling feeling to think there are people out there watching and appreciating what you do."

Howard reports that he's having a home built in his native St. Louis area. Hopefully, the plans call for a large trophy room. Check out the hardware this guy has collected in a little over a year: the Jackie Robinson NL rookie of the year, the NL MVP, the Hank Aaron Award, Players Choice Player of the Year, Sporting News Player of the Year, Mike Schmidt Phillies MVP (given by the Philadelphia baseball writers) and the Ted Williams Award.

Robinson, Aaron, Schmidt, Williams. That's a pretty good autograph collection.

And there's more to come. Tomorrow, Howard will be in Kansas City to receive the Josh Gibson Award, given by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum to the majors' top home-run hitter. He and Derek Jeter also will receive Oscar Charleston Legacy Awards from the museum.

Of all the awards, Howard said the Josh Gibson Award, named for the legendary Negro Leaguer and Hall of Famer, will be the most special.


"Because he never got a shot to play in the big leagues," he said.

Great answer.

"I'm truly blessed to be where I am and accomplish what I have," he said.

Howard's baseball accomplishments and his marketable personality and smile have made him a hot commodity off the field. In December, he began looking for a new representative, and sources say he has reached a deal with the powerhouse Creative Artists Agency, which has recently branched into sports and represents former Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart. Well-known baseball agent Casey Close, who represents Jeter, is now with CAA.

"Working on it. Finishing it up. Very close. In the next couple days," was all Howard would say about his new representation. "I don't see it as any big deal."

Howard recently landed an endorsement deal with Topps trading cards and says he hopes for more commercial opportunities.

As for his contract status - and remember, he can't be a free agent until after the 2011 season - he is not sure what will happen.

"I can only get ready to play," he said. "If I play this season on a one-year contract, I'll play, and if it's a multiyear contract, I'll play. I'm anxious to get going, get out in the sun and get playing."

The Phillies slugger looks ready. Though the whole world seems to be tugging on him - that's life as an MVP - he says he's done a better job budgeting his time this off-season. He's gotten his workouts in, and even bumped into Albert Pujols at a hitting facility near St. Louis. Pujols, of course, finished second to Howard in the NL MVP voting and felt he was snubbed. At least that's what he told a reporter in the Dominican Republic in December, until furiously backpedaling a short time later and saying he meant no disrespect to Howard.

"I spoke to him," Howard said. "It's over, done, squashed. Not a big deal."

Howard likes the addition of Freddy Garcia to the starting rotation and is so impressed with Cole Hamels that he listed the lefty with Pujols, David Ortiz and Roger Clemens as players he'd pay to watch.

"Luckily, with Cole, I get a free seat," Howard said.

There's a seat for Ryan Howard everywhere this winter. Last night, it was Boston. Tomorrow night, it will be Kansas City, though that could present a small problem. Howard, you see, has become quite the Eagles fan and he'll be taking his seat at the head table right around kickoff time.

"Maybe I can get one of those little pocket TVs," he said with a smile."