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Who is Nolan Ryan?

Who is Nolan Ryan?
Lynn Nolan Ryan

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Wilson County News
June 27, 2012

“Who is Nolan Ryan?” she asked me from across the room, more out of politeness than genuine intrigue.

“Who is Nolan Ryan? Are you serious?” I asked in response, and with a sense of both urgency and disbelief as I looked across the room toward my daughter, who was munching on a bowl of cold cereal.

“What? I’m sure I’m supposed to know who he is, but I don’t,” she said, with one of her glitter-lined bright-eyed smiles, forcing a crooked grin of my own.

While I may have been smiling on the outside, inside I couldn’t help but feel as though I had somehow failed my daughter. As an 18-year-old high school graduate, she had to know who Nolan Ryan was. If not, what sort of a father does that make me? Surely I must have talked about him over the years. I write about sports for a living. She is messing with me. She has to be.

“Really? Nolan Ryan -- the Hall of Fame pitcher?” I questioned again, confident she really knew who he was.

But she didn’t.

A feeling of humble remorse came over me. After all, Nolan Ryan was one of my childhood heroes, and our kids should know who our heroes are.

Any kid of my generation who ever picked up a tattered glove, swung an old wooden bat, or laced up a pair of dirt-stained hand-me-down cleats knows who Nolan Ryan is. He is an icon -- a living legend.

Who is Nolan Ryan?

That question haunted me the next morning as I loaded the family chariot and prepared for my trip to Arlington. There would be plenty of time to ponder the issue, but I needed to get on the road. I carefully ran over a checklist in my head, taking care not to pull out of the driveway before remembering to take everything.

Clothes, meds, laptop, camera, chargers, baseball.

“The baseball!” I blurted aloud. “I need to stop for a baseball.”

With a full tank of gas and a six-hour drive staring me in the face, I made a pit stop in San Antonio. I slipped into Academy Sports & Outdoors, and veered toward the white “Team Sports” sign that hung on the left side of the store. Past some clothes, a mess of exercise equipment that would do me good, and a collection of golf gear I had no interest in, I made a hard left turn down a wide aisle flanked by gloves and batting helmets.

Who is Nolan Ryan?

I found a section there that was filled with baseballs. Several brands and styles provided a plethora of choices, but only one option would be “good enough” for what I had in mind. I eventually found it on a high shelf, off to one side. It probably wasn’t a top seller for the store, but it was perfect for me.

“Official Major League Baseball,” the label read.

Back into the car, and onto the highway, I continued my trek toward Arlington, and the question continued to nag at me.

Who is Nolan Ryan?

I was a bad father. I must be.

I had signed up for, and been selected, to participate in a sports writers workshop at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Several speakers were scheduled to address the workshop, but one name stood out above all others. We knew things could always change, but we were expecting a visit from Mr. Lynn Nolan Ryan -- “The Ryan Express” -- himself.

Who is Nolan Ryan?

Although my daughter didn’t know the answer, everyone in that room inside the confines of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington sure did. When the time finally came, and he walked into the room, I was instantly 10 years old again.

“A man that needs no introduction” was heard coming from somewhere toward the front of the room, but all eyes and attentions were focused at the back corner. His presence brought everyone to their feet, and the room filled with wild applause as Nolan Ryan stepped through the doorway. The ovation brought a smile to his face, and an even bigger one to mine.

It’s hard to describe the moment, and the feelings that seemingly overwhelmed everyone. He was more than just a man. He was a hero. He was my hero.

It took a moment to sink in, and to realize that one of the greatest pitchers of all time was standing right in front of me. And while the applause must have only lasted a few seconds, it felt as though it went on for an hour. Time seemed to stand still for a moment, and despite the applause that must have been heard throughout the structure, it felt almost silent in the room.

Our group of fewer than 30 sports writers spent about a half hour talking to the legendary right-hander. We asked straight questions and got straight answers in return. It was time for him to leave before we knew it, and it hit me like a ton of bricks -- the baseball!

I reached into my worn and tattered laptop bag, quickly retrieving the gleaming white leather-bound baseball I had bought the day before. From another pocket I grabbed a new Sharpie, and I made a beeline for the door. I got there before he did, and stood ready.

“Mr. Ryan,” I asked, stretching my hands toward him, and feeling instantly as though I was a Little Leaguer again. “Would you please sign my baseball?”

Without hesitation, he took the baseball and permanent marker from my grasp. I watched with excitement as he carefully signed my ball. He must have done it a million times over his lifetime, but for me it was a first. I remember watching his right hand wave over my ball and thinking, “This man and that hand threw more than 5,700 strikeouts and seven no-hitters, and he is signing a ball for me!”

The next hour or two of the workshop was a bit of a blur. I don’t really remember what we talked about. All I remember is sitting there -- staring at my baseball.

During the day, we also managed to receive a tour of the ballpark. We stood in the press box, sat in the city of Arlington’s suite, walked through the Rangers’ batting cages, and even sat in their dugout, pretending we were part of the team. We stood just a few feet from Rangers Manager Ron Washington during his pre-game workout, and were treated to seats for that evening’s game. It was a good day, but was highlighted by a great moment.

Many will say he is just a man, that he puts his pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us. While that may be true, he is much more than that to millions of fans who grew up watching him play.

Who is Nolan Ryan?

He is one of the greatest to have ever played the game, and he’s my hero.

Your Opinions and Comments

The Marcelina Muse  
Dry Tank, TX  
June 28, 2012 9:15am
Very good, well written story.

June 28, 2012 4:00am
I loved reading this story - A few weeks ago I was watching a golf tournament - The Memorial - My grandson walked in the living room and asked - How is Tiger doing? (He was leading) - The announcers were talking to an older gentleman ... More ›

Lois Wauson  
Floresville, TX  
June 27, 2012 11:10pm
I love this story Robert! I just imagined how you felt as he signed your baseball! Like you said, a young boy whose hero was right there before you. We lived all those years that Nolan Ryan pitched for the Rangers. My husband ... More ›

4 th Generation Texan  
Sutherland Springs  
June 27, 2012 10:42pm
I use to work with a gal that went to High School with Nolan Ryan. When he was a rookie with NY Mets she got an autograph for me but over the years it has someone gotten lost. Boy do I wish I had that back.

Dennis Dusek  
La Vernia, TX  
June 27, 2012 6:30pm
Great article, brings back old baseball memories. I will have to ask my grand daughter, who just graduated from HS, and see if she knows.

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