Howell shakes off the uncertainy, finds a new baseball home with the San Antonio Missions

Only in professional baseball can a chaotic life experience spanning some 72 hours blossom unexpectedly into a beautiful moment.

A moment that signaled not only the end of one chapter, but also the beginning of another. A development that left Korry Howell humbled in its wake.

It happened last Saturday night in Corpus Christi. On a warm evening, with the sea breezes blowing and the tankers churning in and out of the harbor beyond the outfield wall at Whataburger Field, he stepped to the plate and calmly smashed a solo home run.

As it sailed over the wall, a surge of adrenaline rushed through his 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame.

“It was awesome,” Howell said. “Really great.”

Along with the excitement, a huge weight on his psyche seemed to feel less burdensome. Almost instantly, he felt better about things moving forward.

“I definitely felt a relief off my shoulders when I saw it go over (the fence),” Howell said. “Then, once we got the final out of that game, knowing that I contributed in my first game, it was definitely a proud moment for me.”

A defining moment, at that.

Not only did it give the Missions a 3-2 victory over the Hooks, but it also gave the San Diego Padres’ organization a hint. The Padres knew they had traded for a good player. But they may not have known how adaptable and mature that player could be.

Howell appears to be a player who has the intangibles, as well as all the physical tools, to make an immediate impact.

Yes, he is a shortstop. But he is also a guy who can play center field. He can run and throw and, yes, he can hit it a long way. With players like Esteury Ruiz and Howell, Missions fans could see this season a couple of standout guys capable of affecting the game in a lot of ways.

Now rated as the Padres’ 15th best prospect, Howell nearly had a 20-20 season last year.

Combined, in parts of the summer of 2021 that took him from High-A ball in Wisconsin to Double-A in Mississippi, he nearly put together a season in which he hit 20 homers and stole 20 bases.

For the record, he had 16 homers and 24 steals. But keep in mind that he missed a few weeks at midseason with an ankle injury. Can he get the 20-20 season this year? Can he do something like that in his first season in a new organization?

“Yeah, it’s definitely a do-able thing,” said Howell, 23. “You got to stay healthy. It’s kind of one of the reasons it took me out of it last year. As long as you take it day by day, good things will come.”

Baseball has been a good thing in Howell’s life for as long as he can remember. He had just turned seven years old when his hometown Chicago White Sox won the 2005 World Series.

Asked if his family’s neighborhood on Chicago’s south side was indeed White Sox country, he replied immediately, “Yes, sir.”

“We went to a lot of games,” he said. “My dad, he was the main one taking me to the games. I’ll just always remember that. Frank Thomas was my favorite player growing up. My first game going to a White Sox game? Frank Thomas hit a home run.

“I think it was the (Oakland) A’s at the time. I don’t know who was pitching. (But) that’s my very first memory of White Sox baseball game, was, Frank Thomas, hitting one down the line. Those memories, I’ll cherish forever.”

Coming out of Homewood-Flossmoor High School, Howell had some options as a young ball player and elected to take his game to Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It was a good move for him. He made some strides and found comfort in a group of people who continue to help him.

For example, this past offseason, he trained in Cedar Rapids preparing for the new baseball season. Howell also was very comfortable with the Brewers’ organization, which selected him on the 12th round in 2018. Despite a season lost to the pandemic in 2020, Howell felt good about his development.

Then came last week. The Brewers decided on Wednesday, April 6, to ship catcher Brett Sullivan and Howell to the Padres in exchange for major league catcher Victor Caratini. Not knowing yet what had happened, Howell showed up at the home field of the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers that day to prepare for an exhibition game.

All of a sudden, his manager summoned him for a conversation. As best as Howell can remember, the conversation went this way: “Good news for you. Bad news for us. You got traded. Good luck with everything.

“That’s how it went down,” Howell said recently at Wolff Stadium. “So I got off the field, packed up everything. Talked to a lot of front office guys for the Padres. Then talked to the training staff here. Kind of got things rolling that way.”

From there, he left the ball park and went back home to pack the rest of his belongings. The Padres were telling him he had an early flight out of town the next day, and he didn’t want to miss it. He showed up at the airport Thursday, got all his belongings checked, and began the journey.

There would be a layover in a big airport somewhere, but, to this day, he doesn’t remember if it was Dallas or Houston. After waiting around, he boarded the next plane to Corpus Christi. Middle of the day, he found his way to the Missions’ team hotel.

Ironically, he was the first Missions’ player to check in. The rest of the team would not arrive until later in the evening. So, he sat down on the hotel bed and started making phone calls. First to his fiancee. Then to his family. “‘Hey, I made it,’ ” he reported. “‘I’m here. I’m OK. Call me back if you need me.”

By Friday morning, which was opening day in the Texas League, he had met a lot of teammates and staffers. By Friday afternoon, Howell moved past introductions. Even though he was not in the lineup, he took the field eager to learn more about his teammates. He immediately felt some good vibes.

“It was an easy day,” Howell said. “Kind of showed up at the field. Went through my normal routines. Took my ground balls. Took my fly balls. Played catch. Hit. I just didn’t play in the game. But it was just meeting all the guys, kind of getting familiar with each personality.”

By Saturday, he was in his pre-game routine and in the lineup. A 14-2 loss to the Hooks on opening night was already forgotten. Howell was feeling better about everything, and he showed it by coming up clutch with the ninth-inning homer.

Fast forward a few days, and he’s at Wolff Stadium on the west side of San Antonio. The opponent is a team known as the Frisco RoughRiders. He’s trying to stay in the moment. Late in the afternoon, he gets a phone message that a reporter wants to talk to him.

He also finds out that he’ll be playing in center field that night. In between the time that he’s taking cuts in the batting cage and shagging balls in the outfield, he spends a few minutes talking with Missions manager Phillip Wellman.

Then he introduces himself to the reporter, who asks him about the first week in this new chapter of his life.

He admitted that the abrupt nature of being told he was traded, the chaos of preparing in less than 24 hours to get himself to Texas, all of that, was a challenge. The day of travel was nerve-wracking. Waiting at the hotel after he arrived, alone, and wondering how he would fit in.

Unsettling would be an apt description.

“It was a very long day,” he said. “It was a long day mentally because obviously it’s never happened to me before. So I have to deal with those emotions of a first-time experience. Then you deal with the emotions of, ‘All right, you got a whole new set of guys.’ A whole new set of eyes on me. Whole new organization.

“A whole new feel, basically, to what I’ve been accustomed to and known over the past four to five years of my career. But as soon as I stepped foot in here, the guys welcomed me with open arms. Just met me with smiles and happiness.

“So, yeah. Every day is getting easier.”

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