Howard continues to excel as Bullfrog

July 16, 2001|By ERIC GALVAN, Sports Writer

YUMA — For the past two years former Brawley Union High School baseball player Tim Howard competed in near obscurity, playing professional baseball in Taiwan.

It was about the worst thing to happen in his baseball career.

He was about ready to walk away from the game altogether until an opportunity arose in the off-season to play ball in the United States, an hour from his home town. That opportunity came from the Yuma Bullfrogs, an independent professional baseball team in the Western Baseball League.

"I'm really having fun now that I'm here," said the 5-foot-10, 32-year-old Howard. "Everything that happened in Taiwan was just a really bad experience. So I wanted to get back here and play somewhere closer to home.

"When I was in Taiwan I played with (Bullfrog pitching coach) Chris White. And when I was talking about getting back to the States I had talked to him," said Howard, playing left field for Yuma. "And he talked to (Bullfrog manager) Bill Plummer about bringing me in. So that's basically how I ended up here. And it's a really good situation being this close to home."


One of the main reasons Howard, drafted by the New York Mets in 1988 after playing for Imperial Valley College, chose to sign with Yuma was his daughter Keyanna. His former team, the Amarillo Dillas, had shown significant interest in resigning Howard and, according to Howard, were "drooling" at the idea of getting him back in a Dillas uniform. In 1998 Howard batted .447, third best all-time in minor and independent league circuits.

Having spent the previous five years in Amarillo and Taiwan, Howard wanted to be closer to his daughter. As a professional baseball player, about 250 days of the year are spent away from home. By signing with Yuma, Howard could spend his off days in Brawley with his daughter and the rest of his family. He can even make the drive to Brawley on game days and be back in the afternoon for batting practice.

Howard seems to be in the perfect situation, considering the bitter taste left in his mouth following his Taiwan experience.

"I really needed to get back home. I was tired of Taiwan. I was considering retiring because of the experiences I had over there," Howard said. "First of all, you have the language barrier. You really can't communicate with anyone because you don't understand the language. When you leave the field there's really nothing to do. It was really tough out there.

"It took a couple of months to get used to it and I kind of adapted to living out there. But for the most part it was a real bad experience," said Howard, who has batted over .300 seven of his last eight seasons. "Then, they really didn't treat us (American players) the way they treated their own. They almost expected us to perform at a higher level. It's like we had to prove ourselves all over again to them. It even got to the point where I started to hate baseball not just off the field, but also on the field. and that really got to me."

Since signing with Yuma, Howard has regained his love for the game and "resurrected" his career.

Not that he slipped in Taiwan. He hit over .340 his first season with 15 home runs and 33 stolen bases. His numbers declined in 2000, though, when he only had eight home runs.

Howard is leading the Bullfrogs with a .346 batting average and is tops on the team with 42 runs and 37 RBIs. Hitting from the No. 3 spot, he has helped Yuma to a 26-27 record.

"We were really fortunate to get that type of quality player when we signed Tim. He's really brought a lot to this team and I really believe that we wouldn't be where we are right now without him," said Plummer, a catcher for the Cincinnati Reds for six seasons who played behind Hall of Famer Johnny Bench and earned two World Series rings. "The No. 1 thing Tim brings to this team is veteran leadership and second is performance. He has a lot of experience and knows the game and that's really brought a lot to us."

While he is on his way to another career year, Howard said he'll contemplate retirement at the end of the season.

"For me, retirement isn't too far away. After this season ends I'll evaluate my situation and make a decision as far as what I want to do," said Howard. "Right now I'm happy with the way everything's going. I think I could do a little better on the field, but that's just a matter of getting into a rhythm. But I'm still going to wait until after the season to decide whether or not I want to retire.

"Back when I was growing up on Ivy Street (in Brawley) I really wasn't taking baseball seriously. But then Rudy (Seanez) got drafted and scouts were talking to me. Then I kind of realized that maybe I could make it," said Howard. "The other day I was looking at the back of one of my baseball cards and I was looking at the fact that I'm a career .307 hitter and I have over 1,500 hits. Not a lot of guys can say that. So if this is my last year, I can really say that I'm content with how my career's gone."

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