By Mike Scarr / MLB.comRyan Howard is connected to the great sluggers who've played the game of baseball.
It was the same with Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron; when Howard steps to the plate, the tension is palpable and the stress is felt from the mound, the opposing dugout and the bleachers.
He can change the game with one swing, sending the ball into a majestic and memorable flight.
But the Phillies first baseman also has much deeper connections with a close-knit family.
Howard and his brother, Corey, were both born on Nov. 19, 1979. They are fraternal twins, two parts of a larger family that also includes their older brother, Chris, and their sister, Karen.
Ryan Howard, at 6-foot-4 and listed at 256 pounds, is an imposing figure in the batter's box. However, he simply blends in when hanging out with his siblings and parents, Ron and Cheryl. The all-world slugger admits to being the "smallest" man in his immediate family.
No word yet if Ryan's 7-year-old son, Darian, will give his old man a run for his money.
The Howards are an athletic clan; each of the brothers played basketball, football and soccer while growing up in the St. Louis area. But it became evident pretty early that baseball would be the future for Ryan.
Even in Little League, he could hit monumental blasts.
"They had a fence at this field, and behind that was a Red Lobster parking lot," said Chris Howard, associate athletic director at the University of Kansas. "Then there's the Red Lobster. Ryan hit one so far it hit the Red Lobster. Not the parking lot -- the building."
Climbing the organizational ladder, Howard earned back-to-back Most Valuable Player Awards in the Florida State and Eastern Leagues from 2003-04. He reached the Majors in 2004 and struck out his first time up but launched his first homer 10 days later.
Two long balls that September turned into 22 the following season, earning Howard the National League Rookie of the Year Award. That number ballooned to a franchise-record 58 in 2006, resulting in NL MVP honors.
Howard has proven to be no one-year wonder, as he clubbed 47 homers in 2007 and another 48 in '08.
"We always encouraged Ryan to go out and do the best that he can," Ron Howard told MLB.com. "If at the end of the day, he can look in the mirror and say, 'I did everything I could,' that's a reward in itself."
A star in his own right, for sure, but Howard's ascendancy is rooted in the family that gave him flight.
Mike Scarr is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.