Opinion

Which Phillies could succeed Howard as team leader?

On Sunday afternoon, fans will enter Citizens Bank Park just as they always do. They’ll push through the turnstiles, walk past the man selling programs, through the sea of ballpark food, and to their seats. Dan Baker will settle in to announce the lineups, as per his routine. Upon reaching the fifth name on his list, he’ll pause before exploding into, “Number 6, playing first base, Ryan Howard!” just as he has done for more than a decade. The last remaining piece of the 2008 World Champion squad will get his due. The last remaining member of the team that ended a city-wide, championship drought, will have his moment, something he has not been able to recapture in years. While the number of fans in attendance might not be the same as it was in Howard’s hey day, the emotions of the moment should be.

While the last few seasons have been forgettable, both for the Phillies and Howard, the presence that Ryan Howard brought to the Phillies was remarkable. He filled that role both as a leader in the clubhouse, and as a leader in the lineup. If there is a single moment of the lefty slugger’s Phillies career that embodies that leadership, it was on a cold fall day in Colorado, in October of 2009. With his team down 4-2 in the 9th inning of a crucial NLDS game, Ryan went to his teammates and confidently said, “Get me to the plate, boys.” What followed was a two-out, two-run, double to tie the game which the Phils would go on to win and advance to the National League Championship Series . That was leading by example, that was clutch, that was what Ryan Howard meant to the Phillies.

When the final pitch of the day is thrown, and the gates finally close on the 2016 Phillies season, there will be a void. The fans will see the void in the form of the lack of any members from the 2008 and 2009 World Series squads on the active roster. In the clubhouse, there will be the void of a leader. This past week, Howard and backstop A.J. Ellis called a team meeting to motivate the team to finish the season strong. That strong, veteran presence will no longer be there. So, who is primed to take up the mantle?

francohernandezgalvisLook no further than the left side of the infield, Freddy Galvis and Maikel Franco.

Now, neither of these guys are veterans. However, Galvis has been around the big club since 2012, meaning that he has been around the likes of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard, and Carlos Ruiz. Learning from that group should have helped mold Galvis into a man that could prove to be a strong clubhouse presence. This is in addition to his light-hearted, kid-like attitude that he exhibits on the field each and every day. In contrast, Franco brings a more serious demeanor to the game, but has the makings to be an emotional leader for this team moving forward, both with his bat and his words.

Think of a time when you were rallied to follow somebody else’s lead. Think about how that individual inspired you. Remember the adrenaline rush in that moment. Remember the feeling of being prepared to get the job done. Now apply that to a baseball field. A leader must be able to communicate. A leader must be able to lead by example. Galvis and Franco can communicate with this team. Speaking Spanish gives them an ability to connect with a young core that will include future key contributors like Jorge Alfaro, Edubray Ramos, Odubel Herrera and others. Being able to produce and grow as players will let them help others as they move into the bigs. These are all factors that will contribute to a winning clubhouse. Hopefully sooner, rather than later.

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