The bigger benefactor may have been the BlueClaw players, who enjoyed a steak dinner compliments of Howard following the June 28 contest. They also had the chance to pick the brain of the big leaguer, who combined with fellow first baseman Chris Duffy to drive in all of the runs in Lakewood's 7-6 victory over West Virginia, including the deciding tally in the bottom of the ninth.
"My focus was to get one run home and let 'Big Duff' take care of the rest," Howard said after the game. "I told him before he even went up there, I said, 'Hey, be ready to win this game, man.' I just went up there and did my thing, and he came through."
Serving as a one-two punch as the fourth and fifth hitters with Howard was a dream come true for Duffy. In fact, the product of the University of Central Florida admitted that he may have pushed the envelope while garnering advice from Howard during the brief visit.
"I'm sure he was getting annoyed with me asking him all those questions, but he was cool about it," Duffy said. "What was so crazy is me and my brother were playing video games and being Ryan Howard just a few years ago."
The advice has paid off in a big way for the streaking Duffy, who has ridden the proverbial roller coaster during the 2012 campaign. Drafted in the 26th round by the Phillies in 2010 after being a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award as a senior at UCF, Duffy has parlayed back-to-back seasons in the Gulf Coast League with an impressive performance thus far in the SAL. He opened the slate at Lakewood and hit .350 with three RBIs in seven games prior to receiving a promotion to the Florida State League.
At Clearwater, Duffy struggled to make contact during his six weeks at the Advanced A level. He posted a .205 average in 73 at-bats and struck out 25 times with the Threshers, which led to his return to Lakewood on May 29.
Refusing to sulk over his situation, Duffy regained his rhythm with the BlueClaws by picking up where he left off in the SAL. He proceeded to go 34-for-81 at the plate for a league-best .420 batting average in June with three home runs and 19 RBIs. Duffy reached base in all 23 games he played, which helped him earn Topps SAL Player of the Month honors.
June also saw Duffy begin what proved to be a 19-game hitting streak that went from the 11th to July 3. That string represents the longest in the league this season and ranks third in Lakewood franchise annals. Overall, he's batting .364 with a .456 on-base percentage, a .536 slugging percentage and 34 RBIs in 43 games.
"He's been the big bat in the middle of the lineup that we needed ever since he came back here," said Lakewood manager Mickey Morandini. "He's working on his pitch selection and plate discipline and making progress. Chris has been very consistent while driving in runs for us. He's a real good hitter who's driving the ball and making adjustments every time he goes out there."
More Major League visitors: Ryan Howard is not the only big leaguer to stop by the SAL. Baltimore outfielder Endy Chavez was slated to spend July 10-12 at Delmarva while returning from a hamstring injury. In Rome, reliever Peter Moylan, who is attempting a comeback from shoulder surgery last September, is scheduled to pitch for the R-Braves this weekend against West Virginia.
The stopper: Lexington's Mike Foltynewicz served the role of stopper July 10 and moved into a tie for the SAL lead in victories with 10 in the Legends' 2-0 win over Kannapolis. Foltynewicz snapped Lexington's six-game losing streak by limiting the Intimidators to four hits over six shutout innings while fanning six batters.
One for the fans: After hitting his first six home runs of the season on the road, Hagerstown's Justin Miller went deep for the faithful at Municipal Stadium on July 8 to help guide the Suns to a 6-3 win over Lexington. Miller led off the fourth inning to ignite a three-run rally and allow Hagerstown to complete a five-game sweep over the Legends.