Ryan Howard is on the comeback trail

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Laugh all you want about the $105 million the Phillies still owe Ryan Howard. And laugh all you want about the .219/.295/.423 slash line the first baseman posted at the age of 32 last season in his return from a torn Achilles. In nine spring training games, Howard is looking more and more like the former MVP who terrorized pitchers across the league.

In 24 spring at-bats, Howard has slugged three homers, tied for the second-most among contestants in both the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues. Two of those homers have come against name brand pitchers in Craig Kimbrel and R.A. Dickey, both hit to left-center. The third, his most recent, was a tape-measure shot to right against Blue Jays lefty Brett Cecil. Along with the homers, Howard has hit three doubles and driven in ten runs.

Howard has traditionally been a high achiever in spring training. His OPS starting in 2011 — he did not participate in spring training last year — and working backwards to 2006 has been .904, .896, 1.180, 1.017, .710, and 1.133. Along with the fact that spring training stats are notoriously poor barometers by which to predict regular season success, one should take his performance in 24 at-bats thus far with a giant grain of salt. Still, the city of Philadelphia would love to see their star slugger back in form, reclaiming his place in the middle of the Phillies’ lineup.

Mariano Rivera awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

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Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Trump on Monday. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian honor to “individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the security or national interests of America, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

Babe Ruth was posthumously awarded the medal last year. Yogi Berra got it posthumously in 2015, and Willie Mays and Vin Scully were also awarded it the same year.

Trump and Rivera are close. Rivera, who is from Panama, has been criticized for his relationship with Trump. Defending that relationship, Rivera said on Fox & Friends in July, “Mr. President Trump to me, he was a friend of mine before he became president. So, because he’s president I will turn my back on him? No. I respect him. I respect what he does and I believe he’s doing the best for the United States of America.”

Rivera, 49, served on Trump’s Opioid and Drug Abuse Commission in 2017. In 2018, Rivera co-chaired Trump’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition. Rivera also co-hosted a fundraiser dinner for the America First Action PAC, which supports Trump and was also hosted by Donald Trump Jr. and Fox News personality Kimberly Guilfoyle.

This past January, Rivera became the first player ever inducted into the Hall of Fame unanimously. He is the all-time leader in saves with 652 as well as adjusted ERA (also known as ERA+) at 205. He retired with a 2.21 ERA and 1,173 strikeouts across 1,283 2/3 innings, spanning 19 seasons with the Yankees.