Former Seattle Mariner Named Wildcat Baseball Coach

Published 08.17.2006


Chris HowardBaseball is more than just a game to Chris Howard.

From his days as a summer league youth player in Overland Park, Kan., to the University of Oklahoma to a decadelong run in the pros, mostly in the Seattle Mariners organization, baseball has been his passion. Now, as the new coach at Pennsylvania College of Technology, Howard is ready to give back to the game.

The start of the season for the Wildcats is still a few days away (Aug. 26), but Howard is ready to get going.

"Baseball is baseball. The fundamentals of the game are pretty much the same (at any level). There are going to be some things that I have to adjust to... the personalities on the team and handling personnel. But as far as the strategies of the game, being a (former) catcher that was my job. As a catcher you are basically the leader on the field. I guess that's why a lot of catchers end up coaching; it's just a natural progression," he said.

Penn College is coming off a year in which it went 32-11 and won the Penn State University Athletic Conference championship.

"I know they do have a good program. I want to keep it at that same level or take it a little bit higher," Howard said. "Hopefully, people around the city will learn a little bit more about the program. It's probably the best secret in town right now."

"We're very fortunate to have a baseball person like Chris who is available to coach our team. It's a benefit to the program to have a person with that much Major League and baseball experience. It can only enhance the program and continue to build Penn College baseball," Mike Stanzione, college athletic director, said.

Although baseball was Howard's love, his high school didn't have a team, so he used his skill as a football player to earn a scholarship to Oklahoma, where then-coach Barry Switzer also allowed him to play baseball.

"I was very fortunate that football gave me the opportunity to get to college on a scholarship and to further my baseball career," Howard said.

After his sophomore year, Howard decided to concentrate on baseball. During his senior year he left Oklahoma and transferred to Southwestern Louisiana now University of Louisiana at Lafayette for his final season of collegiate ball in 1988 before he was drafted by the Mariners.

Howard spent the next 10 years in professional baseball, appearing in Major League games with Seattle in 1991, 1993 and 1994. He was on the Mariners' roster in 1995 when they went to the American League Championship Series. After that season, he was signed as a free agent by the New York Mets and played at the Triple-A level in 1996. In 1997, Howard went to spring training with the Boston Red Sox, but a shoulder injury from the previous season brought his playing days to an end.

It was during his time with the Mariners that Howard first came to Williamsport. He was called up to the then-Class AA Williamsport Bills in 1989 and returned to Williamsport in 1990. Although unhappy that he wasn't moving up the professional ladder as quickly as he would have liked, that's when he met his future wife, Tricia Morrone. The Howards, who live in Williamsport, are the parents of three children: Alec, 12; Cynthia, 10, and Sofie, 6.

Reflecting on his professional playing days, Howard said, "I've been very, very fortunate to have played with some of the game's greatest players. Alex Rodriguez was a teammate of mine. I've played with three or possibly four future Hall-of-Famers in Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez and Alex Rodriguez. Managing wise, Lou Piniella was the best manager that I ever played for and he's probably a future Hall-of-Famer at that position, too.

"I've been very fortunate to play with and learn the game from some of the greatest players and managers that have been around. A lot of that has rubbed off on me in terms of being able to relay some of that to the kids that I'm going to be coaching," Howard said.

Although out of baseball for much of the past decade, baseball has never been out of Howard, and while he never wanted to put his family through the grind involved with pro ball, it was working with his son's Little League team that gave him the urge to get back into a uniform.

"Ultimately, I really wanted to coach a college team. I felt that those were kids who are there to learn and I want to teach and be around guys who are a little more willing to listen to things that I've learned over the years," Howard, who also works at Murray Motor Co. in Muncy, said.

"I guess the best that I can hope for when they're done playing is that they can say they know the game a little bit better than they did when they started," Howard said.

"I wanted to get back into the game. It's what I do. My whole life has been geared toward baseball. Ever since I can remember, that's all I wanted to do. After so many years of being away from it I was more than ready to get back in it.

"This is my passion. I am extremely excited that I've got this opportunity," the coach added.

( Complete rosters and season schedules are available on the college's Athletics Web site ).