CLEARWATER, Fla. - The monotony of spring training can become monotonous. So rather than recount a Grapefruit League game or provide some insight on a major league roster hopeful, the Daily News pinned down the $125 million man for a chat.
Ryan Howard, off to a roaring start this spring after missing half of last year recovering from left Achilles' surgery, answers the most pressing topics, lighthearted and serious.
Daily News: Who in this room would win in a cage match?
Ryan Howard: Cage match?
DN: Yes, to the death.
RH: Now you're killing people?
Delmon Young interjects: You went from a cage match, just tossing people out, to tearing people apart.
DN: You can pick a final four and a winner.
RH: I'm going to say (nonroster outfielder) Jermaine Mitchell would win. J-Mitch has a UFC mentality to him. I'd throw J-Mitch in there, I'm throwing Cookie (Aaron Cook) in there, (Kevin) Frandsen.
DN: You're going off the board here.
RH: These are off-the-board questions.
DN: I was thinking (Phillippe) Aumont. He's one big Canadian.
RH: Aumont's got to go to the World Baseball Classic, so he's out.
DN: What about you?
RH: I'm just judging. I'll watch from the front row.
DN: Who in here would have the best chance at killing a bear in the woods?
RH: That's where you have to find your hunters. I would say – I'd put Cookie in there, Cliff (Lee) in there.
DN: You don't think Roy Halladay is keeping charts on the bear, figuring out its weaknesses?
RH: I'd probably say (Jonathan) Papelbon; he'd probably wrestle (the bear). I would say those three guys.
DN: Wins are the obvious stat you are all here for. But what would your individual statistical goal be for 2013?
RH: For me? I would never tell you that. Who wrote these questions? They thought they were slick, sneaking that one in. I see where you're going.
DN: Big contracts can work a couple of different ways: some guys can be relaxed after getting paid, others might be motivated to live up to it. Some press. Where are you on that?
RH: I really don't know. I don't think about it. I've seen it where guys . . . I've never let it affect me one way or another. I think just with your competitive nature you want to go out, compete and get the job done. Sometimes you go and put too much pressure on yourself. It all varies. Some guys let it affect them . . . But it's all about finding a balance. I've never let it come into play.
DN: [On Howard's footwear] Socks and sandals. What are you thinking?
RH: Well, there's a difference. Flip-flops. If you're an athlete, you like to wear flip-flops. It depends on what kind of sandals you're wearing, like some old-man sandals . . . And what if it's cold? If you want to go outside and get the mail. [Papelbon walks into room.] See, doesn't that look like someone who would wrestle a bear? Exactly.
DN: For the first time since 2007, the Phillies don't have a bull's-eye on them as the team everyone is gunning for. Is that a good thing?
RH: We aren't looking into what everyone is saying or who's the team to beat or who's this or what's that, because every year people come out with the team to beat and sometimes they're right, sometimes they're not. So that's why you have to go out and play the 162-game season to get to the playoffs, to try to win the World Series. So all the talk - we don't really pay attention. Especially after last year, with all the injuries. You have so much to deal with during the season . . . stuff you can't predict. It's not just one team, it's every team that has to play through those variables. It's the team that can play through that and keep it together, play together and play good ball that's going to be there in the end.
DN: The Atlanta Braves have one regular position player over 30. You guys have an infield, catcher and a few key pitchers in their 30s. How aren't you old?
RH: As a team we've gotten older, but I think when people start trying to write you off because you're old – look at the teams the Braves had all of those years. I know Chipper was young, but they had a good mix, they had veteran guys who were experienced and some younger guys. I think you're only as old as you feel. Yeah, it takes your body takes a little longer to get ready, but it's all about how you go out and compete. At times I feel like the media will use age as an advantage and they will use it as a disadvantage. They can say, 'This guy is young; he needs experience' . . . And then the older guy is struggling because he's old. You're going to have good and bad days where you struggle if you're 20 or if you're 50. It's the game. People tend to pick and choose how and when they want to use the age number. We know we've gotten older as a team, but the thing is we just have to continue to compete and keep ourselves as healthy as we can, and then show teams we can still play. We can get it done.
DN: Who retires first: Jamie Moyer or Jose Contreras?
RH: I would say Contreras.
DN: He's in camp with the Pirates, you know.
RH: Wow. Yeah. How old is Contreras now?
DN: Good question.
RH: They might have to have a mutual meeting. But I think Contreras might (retire first).
DN: Who is your favorite former teammate?
RH: There have been a few. I would have to say Stairsy (Matt Stairs) and Geoff Jenkins. And Marlon Byrd.
DN: Favorite TV show right now?
RH: I spend a lot of time watching the "Real Housewives" stuff. My wife is always watching that
DN: The correct answer was "Breaking Bad."
RH: Is that pretty good?
DN: What's something people don't know about Jimmy Rollins that they should?
RH: Hmm. you'd have to ask his wife that one. I mean, when it comes to the public, Jimmy doesn't hide anything.
DN: How about Chase (Utley) – what should people know about him?
RH: Chase is a lot funnier than people think. When he's on the field, he's in locked-in, serious mode. People don't get to see him behind the scenes.
DN: Why is Roy Halladay going to be Roy Halladay again?
RH: Because of his mentality. Roy works so hard, he dedicates himself to his craft. The way he prepares for the day he's going to pitch, and even the days he's not pitching, he is always looking forward to that next start. He's watching things during the game, keeping a book. As long as he's healthy and can stay healthy, he's going to be Doc. Because that's all he knows how to be.
DN: Harlem Shake or Gangnam Style?
RH: Harlem Shake. I'm Gangnam Styled out. The Harlem Shake.
DN: Who's your favorite athlete in another sport right now?
RH: LeBron James. Right before they (the Miami Heat) won that championship, everyone was all over him and you could see . . . In Cleveland when he was playing, he was always having fun and they talked about the expectations of him having to be the next Jordan. He realizes, he sees in himself, "I'm not Jordan, I'm not Kobe, I'm LeBron James. That's all I can be. Love me or hate me, or do whatever you want, I'm LeBron James. And I'm going to do it the way I'm going to do it and I'll have fun." But when . . . he realized he put too much pressure on himself, he got back to having fun. And now it's having fun with a killer mentality. It's the mentality Jordan has, that Kobe has – you can see it on his face when he's out there. Until this game becomes a laugher, and showtime or whatever. I think he's got it like Jordan and Kobe, where it's, "I'm going to take your heart, take the heart out of your team and leave you there." All you have to do is look at his eyes during the game.
DN: How strong are your legs right now?
RH: My legs are strong, they're good. I'm going through spring training and trying to get stronger. I'm trying to get refreshed, whenever I can get an off day to get some recovery, rejuvenation.
DN: Are your legs helping your swing right now? That looks quite strong.
RH: Yeah, I think so.
DN: What area of your game can you get better at?
DN: Not an acceptable answer. Pick one.
RH: No, I mean that's it. It's every aspect. Until you never make an error and can get to every ball, until you can swing and never miss, until you can hit the ball in play and always get a base hit, you're always working on something.
DN: Is that what motivates you, having no imperfections?
RH: I guess. Yeah, pretty much. I just continue to work to be as perfect as I can.
DN: Your tattoos have any significance?
RH: Yeah, they do. I mean, some of them I got in college. Some when I got into pro ball. One of them is friendship, that kind of stuff. I got one in Hawaii with my brother and one of my buddies; we all got the same symbol.
DN: What's your favorite thing about being a dad?
RH: Just being able to watch my son grow, talking to him. Getting the chance to watch his games. He has a tournament in Tulsa this weekend. I was texting with him back and forth about his games. Watching him play, seeing myself in him when I was his age. Just seeing a lot of the same tendencies from when I was his age.
DN: Is he good?
RH: Oh yeah, he's good, but not just in baseball, but just in life, period. He's in sixth grade. He's 12. Knowing what's he thinking as a sixth-grader – we're very similar.
DN: How many wins are the Phillies going to get this year?
RH: You'll have to ask me at the end of the season.
DN: Not a fair answer. OK, let's try this: over or under 90?
RH: Hopefully over. I don't like to try to make those predictions.
DN: Jimmy is at the World Baseball Classic, though. It's on you.
RH: Yeah, I don't like to make those predictions. I like to let it play out. Hopefully it's enough wins to win the division and go to the playoffs. I don't make predictions on wins. I let that play itself out.