How Ed Howard’s character and work ethic helped him combat up-and-down 2021 season
Myrtle Beach, SC — Three months into the 2021 MiLB season, Ed Howard’s batting average sat below the Mendoza line. He knocked just 7 extra-base hits in over 40 games.
His teammate, roommate and friend — the Cubs 2nd-round pick from the University of Michigan, Jordan Nwogu — summed up the feelings associated with struggling through a long minor league season best:
“You get to points where you’re like, man, is this really what I want to do?” Nwogu said.
For Howard, even through the struggle, his confidence remains steadfast.
“I believe in myself,” Howard said. “I know I can hit.”
In Howard’s final 37 games of the season, starting on Aug. 1, he proved himself correct. He hit .263 with an OBP above .300 and jolted his weighted runs created (one measure of total offensive value) to near league average for the Class A level.
This improvement came in Howard’s first season in professional baseball and first high-level game action since before the COVID-19 pandemic halted much of the amateur circuit in March of 2020. It’s a testament to his character and resilience on and off the field. The same character and resilience he hopes to one day grace Wrigley Field with.
“That’s everything,” Howard said. “That’s the goal.”
Brian Hurry, the head varsity baseball coach of Mt. Carmel high school, knows Howard as a player and person better than many. He coached Howard on the school’s varsity team since Howard was a freshman. During the offseason months, players lift bright and early in the morning at 6 a.m. — two hours before the morning bell rings. Players go through a full day of classes after lifts and try to get to bed early for the sake of recovery.
Then there are practices, countless hours of drilling footwork in the field, cone drills and taking ground balls to provide Howard the chance to make highlight-reel defensive plays. Entering the 2020 First-Year Player Draft, the prospect website Fangraphs graded Howard as a future above-average major league shortstop defensively and placed Howard as the 5th most valuable defensive player among all 38 position players scouted.
“Not everyone realizes the hard work that went into him being able to make plays the way that he did,” Coach Hurry said.
Howard’s character permeated Mt. Carmel’s baseball team off the field even after his time at the school. A couple weeks after being drafted in June 2020, Howard returned to Mt. Carmel for a summer clinic Coach Hurry organizes annually with grade school baseball players from the Greater Chicago area. Howard hung around for over two hours, talking and signing autographs for the future stars of Mt. Carmel’s varsity baseball team and maybe even those of MLB.
In June of 2021, at the Cubs Class-A affiliate Myrtle Beach Pelicans stadium, where Howard spent all of the 2021 season, Howard noticed a fan in the stands with a Mt. Carmel baseball T-shirt. The kid was an 8th-grader who Coach Hurry hopes to have on the field for Mt. Carmel when he reaches high school. His family was in town on vacation for a game. Howard greeted the family after the game and gave the kid a pair of batting gloves.
Coach Hurry received a phone call from the kid’s father the next day, praising Howard’s maturity and graciousness.
“That is just Ed,” Coach Hurry said. “He didn’t have to do that. He’s staying true to the person he’s been since I met him in 6 or 7th grade.”
Howard’s current teammate, Nwogu, sees the edge Howard has as well.
“He’s just a bright kid,” Nwogu said. “We’ve bounced a lot of stuff off of each other this year.”
Nwogu played three seasons of competitive Division-I collegiate baseball in the Big 10 conference with the University of Michigan. That’s a stark contrast to the high school and showcase baseball Howard played for four seasons before being drafted out of high school. But even with their different levels of experience, the mental struggle that a full season of minor league baseball forces on an athlete, especially after a year off, can be cumbersome.
After batting practice one day in August, Nwogu and Howard watched highlights of the Chicago White Sox’s Tim Anderson — his mentality on the field, ability to make consistently hard contact and play with emotion. This is one example of the many interactions Howard and Nwogu share on a daily basis. Roommates in Myrtle Beach, roommates on the road and interactions at the field every day lead to a lot of time for self discovery.
“We talk a lot about the mental things,” Howard said. “How to stay positive and just keep going. How to deal with everyday struggles.”
“We’re pretty similar the way we think,” Nwogu said. “I’m glad I have him.”
Howard emphasized that one of the main support systems he has had through the entire season to manage his mental health and deal with adversity is his “close circle” of family and friends.
“Those people will always help you,” Howard said. “Those people really help me in long seasons like this.”
That close circle includes his mom and dad (Calandra and Edward) and his sister (Capri), among others. And with Howard’s offseason underway after the Myrtle Beach Pelicans finished 59-61, missing the minor league baseball playoffs for Class-A, he’ll have some time to connect with his close circle and reflect on his first season in professional baseball.
With a normal offseason, barring any unforeseen COVID-19 difficulties, 2022 will bring with it another chance for Howard to grow and improve, potentially even closer to home, with the High-A South Bend Cubs. All the while, he’ll remain as impactful off the field as he has been on in his young career.
“I just always try to be a good person no matter what,” Howard said. “Regardless of what’s going on on the field.”