SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - Ryan Howard arrived in Williamsport on Thursday morning, flying into the quaint Central Pennsylvania town on a private plane. The Phillies first baseman spent the early part of the day at the Little League World Series, meeting each of the tournament's 16 teams.
And one of the tournaments players - Taney slugger Zion Spearman - issued Howard a challenge.
"He challenged me to a home run derby," Howard said. "I had to stand my ground on him a little bit."
Howard asked North Philadelphia's Spearman if he wanted to have the contest at Citizens Bank Park or a Little League field. Spearman, hitting .556 in three games here, said he would have to ask his teammates.
"My man Zion, he came right at me," Howard said. "And he's a big kid. I'm not going to lie, he's a big kid. He came up and sized me up a little bit. I was like, 'OK, we're going to have some conversations.' "
Taney manager Alex Rice has called the 168-pound Spearman a "mini Bo Jackson."
Taney lost to the team from Chicago, 6-5, on Thursday night, ending its run one game short of the U.S. championship game.
"We just really had a lot of fun," Howard said. "The only advice I gave them is to go out there and have fun. Yeah, you guys lost a game the other day, but you should be proud of where you are, and you're not finished."
Taney's game against Chicago paired the tournament's two inner-city squads against each other. Jackie Robinson West, based in Chicago's South Side, is made up entirely of black players.
"I think it's huge," Howard said. "We've always had the questions about baseball in inner cities. And the actual questions of how do you get more African American kids to play baseball. And I think the Jackie Robinson team of Chicago and the Taney team from Philadelphia show that it's working."