THEY FOLLOWED Ryan Howard around Hunting Park like iron filings attracted to a magnet, dozens of kids and adults circling him, darting in and out of the pack to shout something to him, to ask for an autograph, just to be near him. Howard is a wealthy man, a celebrity, a force - all because of how far he can hit a baseball. For as long as that is true, scenes such as this will be neither uncommon nor unexpected.
Fifty yards away, his twin brother watched. He said it seems amazing, the way people buzz around Ryan.
"It still does," Corey Howard said. "Growing up with him, ever since we were little, I'm just a fan like everybody else. I'm proud of him. I'm happy for him."
They were in Hunting Park yesterday to announce the involvement of The Ryan Howard Family Foundation in the efforts of the Fairmount Park Conservancy to revitalize 87 acres of green space that is the anchor of its North Philadelphia community. That involvement, including a $50,000 donation, is the first big public step being taken by the foundation, which will split its attention between Howard's current home and his boyhood home of St. Louis.
The night before the All-Star Game next month, Howard will host a fundraising event, the Ryan Howard All-Star Bash, in his old hometown. (Information on the foundation and the events can be found online at www.howardsreach.org.) These are the first endeavors for Howard-as-philanthropist in the months since he signed his long-term deal with the Phillies.
A couple hundred neighborhood people came to the park for the announcement, to see Howard in a three-piece gray pinstripe, just to be near him. Watching, Corey said he has seen his famous brother grow more comfortable in these situations in the last year or so.
"He handles himself very well, very poised," Corey said. "He doesn't get rattled or anything like that. It's not easy for him to do that, especially because he might get blindsided by certain questions, when he's here to talk about one thing and someone may throw another question at him."
The questions were easy yesterday. The cause was good. As the family researched what to do with the foundation, Corey said they looked at some other athletes' charities and at some larger public philanthropies. They could have gone in a dozen different directions but have chosen to take their first big step in the inner city.
As Ryan said, "Why not? It's all about trying to give back to kids, give back to disadvantaged people." But when you ask Corey the same question, he reaches back a little farther.
"The thing is, we were privileged as a part of our parents' hard work," Corey said. "We grew up in a good suburban area, but it was due to their hard work. They grew up in areas like this in Birmingham, Ala. They always prided themselves on education, on hard work, perseverance and pride. Those things led us . . . they're the prime example of what hard work and determination can do . . .
"We were always looking around for certain things, certain areas where we might be able to be effective, as far as reaching out and actually making a difference."
Corey is the manager of programs and services for the foundation. That, and some work on marketing ventures, has become a full-time job. He is an inch-and-a-half taller than his 6-4 brother, but Ryan was always the better athlete. In baseball, Corey said as a little kid he was like most everybody else: "Take your three swings and sit down. Ryan would actually hit the ball." In basketball, the last time the 29-year-olds played on a team together was in high school.
"Our one-on-one games at home growing up used to be intense," Corey said.
"We would play until the lights would go on. I'd play him until I beat him and then he'd throw a hissy fit."
And sometimes they would play in a place called Redmond Park. Ryan said he remembered the feeling, "to be able to go somewhere that you know you're cool and safe and your parents don't have to worry about you."
It is a feeling they all hoped for, on the day Ryan Howard came to Hunting Park. *
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