Howard able to admire Pujols up close

Howard able to admire Pujols up close

ST. LOUIS -- Sure, Ryan Howard loves playing the Cardinals in St. Louis, because it means he gets to play in front of his family and friends in the town where he grew up. But he also loves playing the Cards for another reason -- getting a chance to watch his friend Albert Pujols up close.

The two sluggers have battled for National League MVP trophies the past few seasons, but have also spent time hitting together in the offseason. Howard regularly watches Pujols' highlights on TV and checks his stats, meaning a chance to line up a mere hundred feet away from the St. Louis star is a thrill every time.

"I'm an Albert Pujols fan," Howard said before Monday's game against the Cardinals. "He's one of those guys where he's fun to watch against other teams. Albert and I are friends.

"Everybody wants everyone to do well, not necessarily against them at that time, but everybody wants everybody to stay healthy and go out there and do well."

The two have finished 1-2 in the NL MVP voting twice, with each winning one, but Howard said the notion of there being a competition between the two has been made a bigger deal by those on the outside.

"I think both of us just go out there and focus on playing the best we can to help our teams," Howard said. "I think a lot of things get blown out of proportion as far as whether people don't like each other or if there's some type of competition or whatever. I don't think it's that way. We're both competitive in our own natures as far as going out there and trying to help our teams win."

Howard has put up gaudy numbers against the Cardinals as a visiting player in his hometown since breaking into the Majors in 2004. In the town where he once starred at Lafayette High School, Howard has 24 RBIs in 15 career games entering Monday's series opener.

"I don't know why," Howard said. "I guess it's just being home. It's where it all began. Being able to come here and play in not the original Busch Stadium, but still Busch Stadium, in front of your family and friends, it's just something that kind of takes you to a different level."

The Phils' left-handed slugger, who had a large group of fans in attendance Monday, including his parents, brother, sister and friends, has a career batting average of .368 against St. Louis, with 12 home runs and 32 RBIs.

With the 80th annual Major League Baseball All-Star Game to be played in St. Louis this summer, Howard has set his sights on getting another chance to play in front of his hometown fans.

"That would be awesome," Howard said. "That would be a great experience to be able to come back here and play in an All-Star Game in my hometown. Besides winning a championship, I think that's something that everybody dreams of, except for maybe playing for your hometown team some day. I think an All-Star Game would be up there."

And how about the chance of competing against his buddy Pujols in front of the St. Louis fans in the Home Run Derby?

"I think if I made it, I would have absolutely no choice but to participate in the Home Run Derby," Howard said. "I wouldn't even have an option. It would be great. It would be a great experience."

B.J. Rains is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.