Few things would put a smile on my face this season like the Philadelphia Phillies making their long suffering fans suffer just a little more. My own screwy bias aside, the Jim Thome-replacing, HR crushing 1B Ryan Howard seems like an ok guy, if only for tolerating this line of questioning from City Paper’s Dave Hollander (link courtesy Maria).

CP: Comparisons have been made between you and former long-ball-slugging Phillies first baseman Dick Allen, who won Rookie of Year honors in 1964. At the 102nd Philadelphia Sports Writers Association banquet in February honoring the two of you, Allen publicly acknowledged you in his speech. What private conversations have you had with Dick Allen?

RH: I haven’t had too many. I talked to him while I was at the event, and I’ve seen him a couple times here then there at spring training. He basically told me to “keep doing it.” To have fun, keep after it and stay with what I’m doing.

CP: In 1969, the Phillies suspended Allen for 26 days. He returned to hostile hometown fans who pelted him with fruit, ice, garbage and batteries in addition to obscenities and racial epithets. Philadelphia sports fans can be tough on their stars even in good times. What advice did “Crash” Allen give you about dealing with Philly fans and media?

RH: Can we hold on just one second? I’m gonna order some food real quick and then I’m gonna kill that answer.

CP: Sure.

RH: [To the attendant at the drive-in window.] Can I get some large fries, crispy. And can I get two bacon, beef and cheddar sandwiches. Um ¦ and some Minute Maid lemonade. [To CP.] Sorry about that. Now about how much advice he gave me about the fans and the media? Not too much. I mean, I don’t know the entire story of whatever went on [with Allen] but I’ve learned a lot being up with the team last year and seeing how the fans are. So far I have had a pretty good reception, but the fans are tough. They expect a lot out of their teams, and rightfully so. Still, it’s been good for me and I’m happy that they welcomed me. I’ve seen nothing but good things from them so far. Hopefully I can stay on their good side.

CP: After Dick Allen had hit a home run over the left- centerfield roof of Philadelphia’s old Connie Mack Stadium, Willie Stargell said, “Now I know why they boo Richie all the time. When he hits a home run, there’s no souvenir.” After some of your signature tape-measure jobs last year, has anyone asked to check your bat?

RH: Ummm ¦ no.

CP: How about checking your urine?

RH: I think everybody has to do that.

CP: Your father, Ron Howard, has been a major influence on your personal and professional development. How often does he get confused with the Hollywood film director of the same name?

RH: Not at all.

CP: Some religious groups have come out squarely against Ron Howard’s new film, a big-screen adaptation of the best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code. How far should free speech go when so many people are offended?

RH: That’s what makes it free speech. Not everybody is going to like what you have to say about things. If it’s going to be the case where people will get upset I think there’s certain situations where you might want to exercise a little restraint. But any movie about religion is going to stir some things up. It’s pretty much expected. When they had that Mel Gibson movie, The Passion of Christ, it was the same way. You start offending people’s beliefs, they’re going to get upset.