On May 13, Ryan Howard hit a first-inning home run against the Braves, helping the Phillies cobble together a 5-4 divisional victory in Atlanta. The homer may not have stood out for some -- Howard does tend to hit more than his share of dingers over the course of a season -- but it might be one of the most significant the slugger will ever hit, because of what it meant to the family of a late elementary school student who was one of Howard's biggest fans.
Ryan Howard circles the bases after a homerun against the Rangers
As reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer and The Delco Times, Howard actually appeared at a memorial service earlier that day via recorded video message, which he taped that morning from Atlanta. The memorial was for 7-year-old Aidan Silva, a Little Leaguer and self-proclaimed super fan of Howard, and who is the son of Penncrest (Pa.) High baseball coach Steve Silva.
Though the younger Silva never got a chance to meet Howard -- he died of sudden cardiac arrest of Labor Day weekend 2010 -- the slugger still was touched when he heard that he had been Aidan's favorite player. That inspired him to leave the video message after a memorial service held at Penncrest on May 13.
This is what Howard said, in the message which was shown in Penncrest's auditorium during the memorial for Aidan, who you can see pictured below.
"I'm sorry for the loss of Aidan; I've heard he was a very upbeat and spirited kid and I know the loss is hard for everyone," Howard said in the video. "The tribute you are doing today is awesome. I'm very honored to hear that I was Aidan's favorite player. When I go out and take the field tonight, he'll definitely be in my thoughts and prayers, and I'm going to go out there and do the best I can for Aidan."
That message was accompanied with a box that included both an autographed Howard jersey and a handwritten card, on which Howard said he planned to dedicate a game to Aidan Silva. Hours later, the aforementioned home run soared out of Turner Field, and there was little question who it was for.
"That was crazy, right?" Howard told the Times before a Phillies game days later, talking about the homer and his later game-winning run (in the top of the eighth inning) against the Braves.
If there was any question that larger karmic forces were in play, those doubts were set aside a few days later, when the Phillies were facing off against the Rangers on May 21. FOX analyst and former Sporting News writer Ken Rosenthal was mentioning the story during the second inning of FOX's Saturday game of the week while Howard was batting. Guess what happened? Howard homered again, in the middle of Rosenthal's tale.
The Howard home runs may not have been as direct a tribute as Babe Ruth's legendary 1926 tribute shot for Johnny Sylvester, but they might just be equally meaningful to a family still coming to grips with the loss of a son far too young.
"We were like, 'You've got to be kidding me,'" Silva told the Times. "We almost fell off the couch. We couldn't believe it.
"I was like, 'He did it, he did it, he did it!'"
- Ryan Howard