The kids were everywhere.
On fences, dugouts, parents and each other; all just to get a glimpse of their hero. What they didn't realize is they are also his heroes, little bundles of joy and inspiration to one Ryan Howard.
On Tuesday afternoon at Leedom Estates Park in Ridley Park, PA, Howard showed up as an honorary coach for a Little League Challenger Division game sponsored by Subway (he's one of Subway's Famous Fans). The division is for boys and girls with mental and physical challenges, giving them a chance to compete just like everyone else.
Howard, 32, is a mountain of a man and yet proved to be the quintessential gentle giant. Despite the heat and humidity Howard posed for endless pictures, shook little shaking hands and even brought one girl to tears with a simple hug and hello.
"It shows that no matter what if there's something you want to do or a dream that you have you want to achieve [it's possible], Howard said. I use the example with the Olympics, Pistorius from South Africa, with him being able to go out there and run with what they're calling able-bodied guys is a feat in itself. I think what these kids are out here doing today, I think that's special. It transcends the game of baseball."
Watching the game and the events leading up to it, it was genuinely hard to tell who was having more fun. In a day and age where athletes are much maligned and often portrayed as selfish and unapproachable, Howard was the total opposite of that characterization.
Just ask Jennifer Kehoe, one of the coaches who has kids of her own involved with the Challenger Division.
"I think it's an awesome opportunity because he's a great role model in the community and the players to have someone from the field of baseball to come down that they can look to and have the experience that they don't have often."
The game was only one inning, but those kids will have a memory of a lifetime. They got to play ball with a true superstar on their home field. For a few hours, all their everyday struggles became distant afterthoughts.
Howard couldn't have been happier to make that happen.
"It's always about giving back. I'm blessed to be in a situation that I'm in right now and to people whether I want to be or not I'm a role model. I figure I might as well live it up and be the best role model I can be. If somebody aspires to be me I always say don't be me, be you. But if there's something that you like that I do take that and add it to your everyday life."
The sky was somewhat gray and hazy on Tuesday. Yet thanks to Howard, the sun never shined so brightly for those kids.
Also, please vote on the Buddy Badge Contest on Subway's Facebook Page. The winning logo will be the official logo in 2013 for the Little League Challenger Division.
For more on Ryan Howard and the Phillies, please be sure to check out our blog Bleeding Green Nation and SB Nation Philly for all the latest news and updates.