By Matthew Postins
With Nolan Ryan it’s personal. For all of us who are Texas Rangers fans, were Texas Rangers fans or just follow the team. It’s just personal.
That’s the connection we all feel with Ryan. Or at least that’s what I think. That’s how I feel about it, anyway.
Everyone is writing about the end of the Ryan era in Arlington. And it is the end. This time, unlike when he left the team after his personal-services contract expired shortly after his Hall of Fame induction, there doesn’t seem to be a path for him to return.
And there isn’t much more to write, in all honesty. I mean, he’s a living legend. He’s in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He’s a successful baseball owner and team president. He’s a successful rancher. I mean, think about it – has the guy failed at anything? Have you ever heard anyone say a bad word about the man? Ever?
So, in this edition of Postscripts, I’m going to get personal, just this once.
I am a Nolan Ryan fan. Always have been, always will be.
How big? I have plenty of Ryan baseball cards. I have his autograph on two different pieces of memorabilia. I have several Ryan T-shirts, including a loud Astros orange Ryan jersey T-shirt that I never wear but, at the same time, will never give up. I have that iconic “Texas Ranger” poster, the one of Ryan in the Cowboy hat, the duster in the middle of an old western town holding a baseball. When he retired in 1993, the Dallas Morning News ran a one-page poster on the back section of the Sunday paper for each year of Ryan’s career. I have a scrapbook of those back pages. Actually, I have three of them.
Yeah, I’m kind of a geek.
I find it a bit mind blowing that there is a generation of baseball fans that knows Ryan as only a baseball man. It seems almost hurtful that they never had the opportunity to see Nolan Ryan pitch in person, or even on television. I’m old enough to be lucky enough to have at least seen Ryan pitch on television. I was never quite able to swing seeing him throw in person. I had a shot during his final season in 1993, but he hurt his arm in Seattle before I had the opportunity. I do have one memento from that last ill-fated start in Seattle. The Mariners wisely put their remaining tickets on sale for Ryan’s final start for five dollars each. The price wasn’t that wise I suppose. But I probably would’ve paid 100 times that just to have that ticket in my collection.
I had the opportunity to be there a couple of years after Ryan retired as a player when his number was retired at the Ballpark in Arlington. It was a beautiful sun-kissed afternoon and it was one of the best days of my life. I was there with my father. I was there with my best friend. I had a second row seat to see Nolan Ryan’s No. 34 sent to the rafters.
When Ryan was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999, I was there. My fellow RattleandHumSports.com contributor Chuck Cox and I built a three-week baseball vacation around the induction ceremony. As a member of the media, I even wrangled an invitation to a Texas-only party for Ryan the day of the ceremony.
That ought to be enough. But I got a bonus.
Nolan Ryan and I were once co-workers.
In the fall of 2008 I was hired as the director of publications for the Texas Rangers. I worked nine months for the organization while Ryan was the CEO.
Imagine coming to work every day knowing that your boss was one of the people that you idolized growing up. It wasn’t like I interacted with Ryan every day, but I would run into him in the hallway on occasion (he worked on the other side of the fourth floor). When I went to Spring Training to work on stories for the game program, I got a full sit-down with Ryan – just me – to talk about what I was working on.
Ryan one of those few athletes that comes off in private the same way he comes off in public. He’s normal, for lack of a better word. If he wasn’t a world-famous pitcher and was instead the grandfatherly guy who lived down the block, I swear he’d be the same person he is today. It doesn’t seem like anything has changed who he is.
I only worked there a short time, but I came away with some great takeaways of my time there (including a large photo of Ryan knocking around Robin Ventura, the result of a miscommunication between myself and another Rangers employee). But there was one thing I missed out on.
The Rangers started a tradition shortly after Ryan arrived. The birthday ball. When it was your birthday, you got an autographed baseball from Ryan.
I never got my birthday ball. I left a few months before my birthday. I really wanted my birthday ball.
Ryan had an impact on every Rangers fan of the last 25 years, whether you actually shook the man’s hand or not. He made team relevant in the early 1990s, just through the confluence of career milestones he compiled – 5,000 strikeouts, 300 wins and two no-hitters in a three-year stretch.
He helped make the Rangers relevant again the past few years as its CEO. Even though Ryan lost his relevance this year, his influence on Rangers history will never go away. And that personal connection Rangers fans feel for him will never disappear, either.
Ryan is not only walking away from the Rangers, but he’s walking way from his ownership stake. To cynics it’s a pathway to working with the Houston Astros, where his son Reid is the team president.
I choose not to be cynical. Why would you not want to help your son run a baseball team? Ryan did it before with the Round Rock Express and the Corpus Christi Hooks. Ken Griffey Sr. stuck around a few more innings just for the chance to play with his wunderkind son, Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball, at its core, is a father-son experience. Most of us just go to games with our dads. Imagine running the show with your dad?
It’ll happen at some point. After all, Ryan was an Astro before he was a Ranger. And Houston, or more to the point nearby Alvin, is home.
So today we don’t say goodbye to Nolan Ryan. I think we all know that at some point his and our paths will cross again.
Today, Nolan, we say we’ll be seeing you. We’ll be seeing you soon. And thanks, once again, for everything.