ARLINGTON, Texas — Nolan Ryan had plans to be the kind of father who was around a lot on Father’s Day.
Ryan thought he’d retire from baseball in his early 30s and then take up coaching sons Reid and Reese through their Little League days.
Of course that didn’t happen as Ryan ended his Hall of Fame career with 324 victories and 5,714 strikeouts at the age of 46.
That doesn’t mean the Ryan children missed out on quality time with their father. In fact, it was quite the opposite as the Ryan boys got to live the life most kids could only dream about and have no regrets about the way they grew up. Now both are involved in the game as Reese, 36, is the CEO of Ryan Sanders Baseball and will oversee the Triple-A Round Rock Express next season.
Reid has taken on even a bigger role, moving from the CEO spot in Round Rock, Texas to the job as president of the Houston Astros.
Their involvement in the game has everything to do with the way they grew up and the sights they saw. And they would change nothing about the life they’ve lived with their father, who is one of the most popular men in Texas despite not having played since 1993.
“In a lot of ways, every day was Father’s Day in the summer because we got to spend so much time together,” said Reid Ryan, 41, who took over as the Houston president last month.
“Father’s Day when you grow up in baseball is another day at the ballpark or another day when your dad’s on the road. I don’t really have a strong Father’s Day memory so to speak, but what I do have are memories of my dad always including my brother and I in everything he did, whether it was taking us on the road with the team when school was out or making sure we went to the ballpark with him.”
They’re the kind of memories other kids could only dream about. The Ryan boys had the run of the Astrodome during their father’s time in Houston from 1980 through 1988. They knew the ins and outs of the Eighth Wonder of the World.
But it wasn’t just Houston they knew. When school was out for the summer, it was road trip time with Dad. Shagging fly balls in Fenway Park, taking grounders in Toronto, standing on the roof at the Metrodome in Minneapolis — the Ryan boys got to do it all.
It was all part of their father and mother Ruth’s goal of making their life as normal as they could given the vagabond life of a major leaguer.
“Their normal was different obviously than most normals because they had the Astrodome as a playground and not many kids had that option,” said Nolan Ryan, who moved from being the team president of the Rangers to CEO this offseason. “They were treated differently because people in the community looked at them differently. We tried to make it as normal as we could. We tried not to make them think they were entitled or different than other kids. We tried to maintain as much normalcy as we could.”
Normalcy for both of the boys meant baseball. Reid and Reese pitched collegiately. Reid started his career at Texas before playing at TCU, which is where Reese also ended up pitching.
Playing the same sport as a superstar father would seem like a tall order, but Reid didn’t see it that way.
“No matter what I do, I’ll always be known as Nolan Ryan’s son,” Reid Ryan said. “That’s not a bad thing. That’s a great thing and I’m very proud of him for what he stood for as a player, an owner and as a president of a team.
“He stands for principles that this country desperately needs. That’s what made my dad a fan favorite, not just his ability to throw a baseball but the way he carried himself on and off the field.”
Playing baseball was something the Ryan boys did without any prodding from their father.
“We let our kids pursue whatever interests they had,” Nolan Ryan said. “My parents were that way and I felt like that was the way to go, support whatever interests they had so we didn’t really try to direct them.”
Like their father, neither of the Ryan boys could get baseball out of their blood. When Reid decided he wanted to put a baseball team in the Austin, Texas area, Nolan Ryan told him to contact Don Sanders, who was a minority owner with the Astros during Nolan’s playing days.
Reid put the deal together with the financial backing from his father and Sanders. Now Round Rock, the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate, is one of the most successful minor league franchises in baseball. The same goes for Corpus Christi in Texas, where Reese is in charge until after the season when the team becomes an affiliate of the Astros and he takes over in Round Rock.
“If you look at what Reid’s done over the last 13 years of his career in baseball from building two stadiums to having two of the most successful minor league franchises in baseball and having such a passion for the game, I think he came into the job with as much baseball background where people that normally come into that job don’t have as much baseball background,” Nolan Ryan said. “I think he understands most of the aspects of the game and I think that’s an advantage for him and he’s also very business minded because of the challenges you have in making your minor league franchises successful.”
That experience is one of the reasons Nolan Ryan thought Reid would be a good fit for Houston when the job opened up last month.
But Reid wasn’t so sure. He enjoyed the life he had established in Round Rock with his wife Nicole and their three children. The pressure to win in the minors isn’t as great because the roster is dictated by the big league club. His family had established roots in the area, too.
However, it was Nicole Ryan who convinced her husband that taking the Houston job was the right thing to do. All she had to do was remind Reid of the life he had as a kid.
“Sometimes the grass isn’t always greener on the other side,” Reid Ryan said. “I was thinking about the kids and the family and the life we had. My wife pushed me over the edge. She told me to look at the childhood me and my brother had and all the unique opportunities (I) and the kids will get from the experience. That was really the deciding factor.”
The shift to the Astros technically pits father vs. son as the Ranger and Astros are American League West rivals. It’s not the first time that’s been the case, either. When Reese was pitching at the University of Texas, he started an exhibition game against his dad when the Rangers played an exhibition game in Austin. Plus, before Round Rock was a Rangers affiliate, it was a Houston affiliate and its teams squared off against the Rangers’ Triple-A club.
But the father-son bond is more important than baseball. Before Reid took the Houston job, he received advice from his father about the keys to running a team. Dad told him that establishing a relationship with the league office and making sure to be visible with the fans were important. It’s advice Reid has taken to heart in his three weeks on the job.
It also hasn’t hurt that Reid’s last name is Ryan because his father is still beloved in Houston despite not playing there since 1988. Reid appreciates what his father has done for him in his career, but he knows that it only goes so far.
“What he stood for and having the Ryan name is a responsibility I carry and something I want to do,” Reid said. “The principles he stood for are important. I’m going to get chances in life others might not get. But getting in the game is half the battle. Then you’ve got to get people out.
“I’ve used the name and the connections through baseball to open doors for me. But it’s been my ability to get people out or not get people out, metaphorically speaking, that has determined whether I’m successful or not.”
Nolan believes Reid has all the tools to be successful in Houston, just like Reese does in Round Rock. The other Ryan child, daughter Wendy, lives in the Amarillo, Texas area. Dad takes the same pride in his three children now that he did when he was a player.
The good thing is that now Ryan, 66, has more time to spend with them and his seven grandchildren. He’ll still be at the ballpark this Father’s Day, just like Reid will in Houston.
Baseball has changed the life of the Ryans, but not the bond the father has with the children.
“You always get a lot of pride with being in your children on Father’s Day, and you get to reflect back on the experiences and all the enjoyable times you spent with them,” Nolan said. “We’re very fortunate we’re a family unit that gets along well and spends time together, so during the holiday and vacations we spend a lot of time together.”