ARLINGTON, Texas — Nolan Ryan and the legend of the snow monkey comes full circle Sunday at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
That’s when the first 10,000 children 13-and-under will get to take home their very own stuffed snow monkey as part of what’s got to be the first ever snow monkey promotion in the history of baseball.
It figures to bring closure to the Ryan snow monkey story that started when he was the “Unofficial Snow Monkey Ambassador” while serving on the state’s Parks and Wildlife Commission from 1995 to 2001.
An interview he gave on a Dallas sports talk radio station KTCK-1310 AM about the story became an instant classic on the station.
And now after a couple of years of prodding, we officially have the Chicken Express Nolan Ryan Snow Monkey for what could be another sellout at Rangers Ballpark
“It’s really interesting that it seems to have taken on a life of its own,” said Ryan. “The Ticket (radio station) is the driving force behind that.”
Well Ryan is really the driving force behind the story.
Ryan had a ranch in La Salle County in South Texas, where he saw a snow monkey on his property, and he didn’t know what it was. That’s easy to understand, considering snow monkeys are mainly found in Japan and in habitats that are heavily covered in snow…something that is not very familiar to Texas.
Ryan found out his neighbors had snow monkeys on their compound that kept getting away.
During a commission meeting, Ryan’s neighbor spoke about the problem she was having with the monkeys. The younger snow monkeys were being run off by the alpha males and were getting on the highways and being hit by cars and were also targets of hunters.
Because Ryan knew the area, the problem fell in Ryan’s lap.
“Because I had just a little knowledge, the rest of the commissioners appointed me as the snow monkey ambassador and they sent me and the executive director to go down there and meet this lady,” Ryan said.
The story may have ended there had Ryan not talked about it with one of the on-air personalities of the radio station when the topic came up again during an interview.
Ryan relayed the story in his deep Texas drawl.
The interview, which happened in 2008, became an instant classic and audio clips of Ryan are popular on the station as well as doctored images of Ryan beating up a snow monkey as well as pictures of Ryan’s face superimposed on monkeys.
Chuck Morgan, the team’s public-address voice and director of in-park entertainment, was paying attention. He first brought up the idea of the promotion in 2010 and then-Rangers CEO Chuck Greenberg was on board, but he wanted Ryan’s face to be on the snow monkey.
The thought of a snow-monkey promo also initially received a lukewarm response from the man that mattered most — Ryan.
“He gave me a stare like ‘You’re an idiot and I don’t like the idea,'” Morgan said. “I kind of felt like Robin Ventura and thought I was going to get it.”
But Morgan didn’t give up.
Morgan travels around the state with Ryan doing question and answer sessions, and the snow monkey topic often comes up. Morgan brought it up again when promotions for this year were being discussed and again, there was some debate about whether or not the promotion would fly.
Ryan said he’d think about it. That led to a conversation in a hallway and some quick thinking by Morgan.
“A couple of weeks later we see each other in the hall and he said if it gets a sponsor I think it’s a pretty good idea,” Morgan said. “He said ‘Without a sponsor…’ and I said we’ve already got one. Then I had to get to the corporate sales guys and told them we had to get this sold because I told Nolan it was a done deal. A week later Chicken Express was on board.”
Morgan did find out snow monkeys aren’t cheap. The ones given out are made by Build-A-Bear and Morgan said the cost of the bears was on the high end of what makes sense in doing a promotion.
Morgan said he’s already heard from Ticket listeners who aren’t happy the promotion is limited to children. But there is good news there too. Chicken Express will have a promotion in its restaurants soon for the monkeys. Another version will also be available at Rangers Ballpark later this month.
So will the stuffed monkey, which has Ryan’s No. 34 on one of its feet and a Rangers ribbon around its neck, be the Rangers’ version of the rally monkey made famous by the Los Angeles Angels during their World Series run in 2002?
Morgan can only hope so.
“The rally snow monkey?” Morgan laughed. “Maybe we could get that going.”
Even Ryan has embraced the snow monkey story.
When the promotion was advertised in the stadium while Ryan was sitting next to former president George W. Bush, he relayed the story to a laughing Bush. It was Bush who appointed Ryan to the commission. Ryan also retold the story at the club’s fan event before this season.
One thing that’s not clear is whether or not Ryan, who is no longer on the commission, is still the snow monkey ambassador. He doesn’t even know.
“Nobody to my knowledge has stripped me of my title,” Ryan said.