Former Phillies slugger Ryan Howard returns to Reading to celebrate stadium renovations

Some of the ballfields on which Ryan Howard played youth baseball weren’t the nicest for a ballgame, so it was a no-brainer, the former Philadelphia Phillies slugger and National League MVP said Thursday, when he was asked to partner with Scotts and MLB on a program to create and preserve safe places for urban youth to play.

Howard was in Reading on Thursday — where his dream of playing Major League Baseball crystallized in 2004 as he belted 37 home runs to break Greg “The Bull” Luzinski’s record that had stood for more than three decades — for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate completion of renovations to the ballpark at Gordon Hoodak Stadium.

Earlier this summer, Scotts and MLB announced that the Olivet Boys & Girls Club of Reading and Berks County won this year’s Scotts Field Refurbishment Program Grant, receiving up to $50,000 to complete field renovations at the stadium on the grounds of Reading School District’s Lauer’s Park Elementary School.

The ballpark sits on the site of the former Lauer’s Park, a ballpark where professional baseball was played a century ago by the likes of Honus Wagner and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson once played with barnstorming teams.

That stadium was demolished decades ago.

The current youth ballpark, including its impressive grandstand, was built in 2006 with a grant from Baseballtown Charities, a nonprofit launched four years earlier in association with the Reading Phillies to give underprivileged children better opportunities to play baseball.

The youth ballpark, named after a longtime Lauer’s Park principal, was hailed as Baseballtown’s crowning achievement in its effort to revitalize inner city baseball in Reading.

Chuck Domino, Baseballtown Charities president, thanked Olivet and Reading School District for being good stewards of that investment.

“We chose this site because Gordan Hoodak was principal of this school and we knew he would take care of it, and we knew the Boys and Girls Club would take care of it and they have,” Domino said.

Joining Howard were representatives of MLB, Scotts, Olivet, Baseballtown Charities and the Reading Fightin Phillies, Mayor Eddie Moran and Dr. Khalid Mumin, Reading School District superintendent.

Youths who participate in the youth baseball and softball leagues run by Olivet participated in drills, some overseen by Howard, on the unblemished clay diamond and natural turf outfield.

Fightin Phils’ mascots Crazy Hotdog Vendor and Screwball were hits with the kids, including a group of boys and girls from the Olivet Walnut Street club who were there as part of their day camp.

Christopher Winters, Olivet president and CEO, said the pandemic took a toll on youth sports and hampered the ability of youths to stay physically active, so he thanked Scott’s and MLB as well Baseballtown Charities for investing in the health of the community.

Tom Wilhelm of Scotts said MLB and Scotts have partnered with field refurbishment programs for six years, renovating 29 fields in 16 states.

“So we’re excited to have one here in Reading, Pennsylvania, today,” he said. “At Scott’s we understand that the greatest games and best memories are made on grass.

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