Howard's homer barrage met with skepticism

Editor's Note: This story appears in the Sept. 25 edition of ESPN The Magazine.

"Everyone ready for The Freak Show?" Phillies outfielder Jeff Conine announces in the visitors' clubhouse before game time, sounding like a gather-around carnival barker summoning ladies and gentlemen and kids of all ages.

The Freak Show, 6'4" and 250-plus pounds of lumberjack-thick menace, is getting dressed in a corner, buttoning up with the giant, calloused paws of someone who works with his man-hands for a living. Ryan Howard is bigger than everyone around him in this room, with the kind of outsize strength your dad had when you were little. In the next few hours at Dolphin Stadium, he'll single, double and walk four times, and that will somehow classify as a disappointment, because those fans who showed up to witness the amazing feats of the circus strong man had to settle instead for a parade of pitchers acting like jugglers and clowns.