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Howard's hustle set for PGAAC

Photo: Ed Howard (Perfect Game)

Cory Van Dyke
Published: Friday, August 2, 2019




When Ed Howard steps to the plate, opposing pitchers often end up frustrated as the shortstop makes hard contact with his fast bat speed. It’s as if Howard sees a beach ball-sized sphere coming his way.

In fact, that’s exactly how Howard started hitting when he was 5 years old. In the backyard of his house in Lynwood, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, his mother, Calandra, would toss him a beach ball that Howard would connect with using a plastic back to gain confidence at such a young age. 

Pretty soon, Howard graduated from his mother or father tossing him the ball, and he began flipping it to himself when his parents were busy.

“This is a 5 year old,” Howard’s father, Ed Howard III said. “He would toss it up and hit the ball and just always be back there working on his swing. He didn’t need me everyday to be back there with him.”

Howard found himself playing other sports or enjoying other activities, but baseball was the one that kept him coming back. It satisfied the curiosity of a young child and it still does today.

“I was always really active playing any sport, but I just gravitated toward baseball,” Howard IV said. “Whenever I found a ball just throwing it or hitting it or hitting something. I’ve always loved baseball.”

Now equipped with a 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame, the young ballplayer certainly did hit anything he could. One time, Calandra’s freshly grown garden was the victim of Howard’s smooth swinging stroke.

“His mother had planted flowers all over the front of the house,” Howard III said. “He teed up every flower she had planted with his plastic bat. That was pretty crazy. I was like, ‘This kid loves this game.’”

While a punishment might have ensued, the Howard’s can laugh about the memory now. It's moments like those that sets Howard apart from his peers. 

All these years later, he’s the No. 17 baseball player nationally in the 2020 class and the No. 3 overall shortstop. It’s why he was named to the 2019 Perfect Game All-American Classic set to take place on August 11.

“It means a lot,” Howard said. “It means what I’ve been doing, the hard work is paying off. It means that it’s all working. It’s just amazing to have the opportunity to play and put that on my shoulder that I’m an All-American. I always tried to carry myself like one.”

For the elder Howard, it’s the culmination of the dedication that he’s seen his son give to the sport. Howard III used baseball as a point of connection with his own father, and he wanted to make sure he carried it on with his son. He coached the All-American up until Ed was a teenager. Then, he let him loose and passed Ed onto other coaches, realizing that the youngster’s talent exceeded his own coaching abilities.

“To see a kid find his passion so young and then work so hard at it, and then he’s succeeding. I’m 52 years old and I haven’t found my passion,” Howard III said with a chuckle. “That’s just a blessing. I’m just so happy for him.”

Between wreaking havoc on gardens and tearing it up on the diamond at Mount Carmel High School, Howard got acclimated to the game in a way that many haven’t at a young age.

Howard was the starting shortstop of the Jackie Robinson West team that made it all the way to the 2014 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. That team eventually lost in the championship to South Korea where Howard played in front of over 28,000 at the iconic Lamade Stadium. That’s not even including the hundreds of thousands of viewers who watched on TV.

“Just the fact that a 12 year old was in front of thousands of adults,” Howard III said. “I had to look at him like, ‘Man, you might be special.’”

“That’s an experience that was really cool for me to get at a young age,” Howard IV said. “When people ask me about it, I tell them all the time that I wasn’t nervous at all because we were just having fun playing the game. Now people try to put pressure on everybody about college and the draft and scouts watching everything, so I just always try to stay relaxed and have fun. Just remember those days when I was 11 playing for fun.”

Of all the players who will compete in the All-American Classic, Howard might be the most well-equipped to not be thrown off by all the eyes that will be on Petco Park. It’s a quality that’s always been a part of Howard, one that’s even rubbed off on his father.

“He’s just always been pretty calm,” Howard III said. “He doesn’t get too high, doesn’t get too low. He’s an old soul in a lot of ways. He keeps a real calm demeanor. Never over the top, just a humble kid. I know it sounds great and I’m his dad, but it’s the truth. 

“Actually, he calms me down. There’s times where I’ve seen him struggle at bat and I kind of get frustrated and he’s always like, ‘I’ll be OK, dad. I’m making good contact. I’ll be OK, it’ll start falling.’ Some days he’s the teacher.”

When Howard isn’t laying waste to opposing pitcher’s at the plate, his glove at shortstop speaks for itself. It’s been that way since Howard was 7 years old playing in 10u tournaments. It’s why as a White Sox fan he’s most enamored by Tim Anderson and he models his game after Manny Machado who became a household name because of his defensive presence.

Howard offers smooth actions up the middle that make him an elite defender along with all the intangibles that are needed to be a successful shortstop.

“You get a lot of action,” Howard said. “I just feel like a leader when I’m at shortstop. I’ve always liked playing it. To me, it’s almost like the quarterback of football or the point guard of basketball. It’s just really fun. It’s a tough position, but I’ve been playing it for so long so I enjoy it.”

Despite the early stardom at the Little League World Series and elsewhere, it wasn’t until high school where Howard comprehended that he had a real opportunity to make a name for himself in the game of baseball. That realized talent in high school quickly attracted the attention of college recruiters, and Howard is now committed to Oklahoma University.

“As I got into high school I just started maturing more and just realizing that I can play with the best out there,” Howard said. “That’s when it really hit me that I could play at a high level. When I started realizing that, it really just motivated me more to keep pushing and to keep getting better and better so I can reach my full potential.”

Howard is a self-proclaimed perfectionist. Once he’s involved in something, the Chicago native has to become the best that he can at it. That something has been baseball over the course of his life. 

He’ll spend hours refining a small hitch in his swing or a little extra movement at shortstop. Howard will say that both of his parents are hard workers and they passed that trait onto him, but even his father agrees that Howard takes it to another level at times.

“He loves playing the game, so we have to shut Ed down sometimes from the physical workouts,” Howard III said. “He likes to workout everyday. He works at his craft and we have to sometimes remind him, ‘Hey, you need to relax and let your body recoup.’ He’s a stickler for being the best that he can be.”

Howard is truly an indefatigable worker and it can be traced to his midwest roots. The winters in Chicago are relentless and unforgiving. While others in different areas of the country are able to get out on a field during those winter months, Howard is left finding other ways to stay ahead of the competition.

“Being from the midwest you don’t really get everything that the guys from Florida or California get,” Howard said. “You just really have to work hard. It teaches you how to be a grinder. You have to in order to go out there and succeed with guys who get to play outside year round.”

In his free time, Howard enjoys kicking it back with his friends. He used to be a video game buff, but that’s faded over the years. Now, he’s concentrated on making baseball his lifestyle. One that will be on full display in San Diego where he oozes a love for the game.

“I want to play baseball for the rest of my life,” Howard said. “I just want to play for a long time and eventually help others with it. I enjoy being around it, and it’s kind of been my lifestyle for my whole life. I don’t really know much else besides baseball. Whenever my playing career is over, I want to help other kids. Teach them what I know and hopefully they can do the same thing.”

 

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