It was August 21, 2010 when a sold out crowd at Coca-Cola Park anxiously awaited the first appearance by Ryan Howard in an Ironpigs uniform. He had played at Coca-Cola Park before as a member of the Phillies but on this night he would be playing in his final rehab game as a member of the Lehigh Valley Ironpigs. The Ironpigs would go on to defeat the Rochester Red Wings that night by a 3-1 score but many in the crowd of 10,000 went home disappointed because at the last minute Howard was recalled by the Phillies and he was in Philadelphia facing Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals in Citizen’s Bank Park that night.
In the four year history of the Lehigh Valley Ironpigs, the hometown fans have seen rehab appearances by Phillies stars such as Roy Oswalt, Ryan Madson, Brad Lidge, Carlos Ruiz, Placido Polanco, Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino and others. But never Ryan Howard. That could change in 2012.
In early January, Phillies beat writer Todd Zolecki wrote that Ryan Howard has been cleared to begin strength and power exercises and would be able to begin baseball activities in approximately 6 weeks. Many experts feel a conservative estimate for Howard’s return to the Phillies lineup would be approximately May 1st. If that’s the case, when the Phillies end spring training and head north it is likely Ryan Howard will remain in Florida for extended spring training. The Phillies appear to have a policy of using players on rehab assignment on the home field of one of their farm teams. With that in mind, the Clearwater Threshers are at home April 22 to April 27. With Howard on extended spring training in Clearwater it is logical for him to play his first games with the Threshers sometime during that homestand. Meanwhile, thanks to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre playing their home games vs. the Ironpigs at Coca-Cola Park this year, there will be AAA baseball in Allentown for 2 straight weeks, beginning April 23 and ending May 6. I’d say if the May 1 timetable is accurate, then the chances of Mr. Howard wearing an Ironpigs uniform in 2012 are pretty good. This time I hope he stays long enough to play at least 1 game. What better way to have an early season sellout for a weekday game at Coca-Cola Park. Something to look forward to on a cold January day.
That’s worth a double oink if it happens.