Ryan takes mound for Rangers in ALCS – sort of

The Texas Rangers opened the AL championship series with their

ace on the mound – Nolan Ryan.

And he came out firing.

Now the team’s president and part-owner, Ryan had the honor of

throwing out the first pitch for the Rangers’ first-ever ALCS game,

against the New York Yankees on Friday night. The all-time king of

strikeouts and no-hitters wasn’t about to give it a ceremonial soft

toss.

Wearing a red golf shirt and khakis, he gave that familiar leg

kick and fired up the ol’ Ryan Express. His heater was low and

would’ve been inside for a left-handed batter. As for the speed,

let’s just say it would’ve been nice to have had a radar-gun

reading.

Ryan came away smiling and laughing, perhaps feeling a surge

from being back on the mound in front of a sold-out crowd for a

game with these high stakes. The crowd had greeted him with the

loudest ovation of the night, and this was after every member of

the club had been introduced, including current ace Cliff Lee.

Ryan, however, is still the No. 1 pitcher in franchise history,

the guy’s whose arrival in 1989 brought relevancy to a faceless

franchise, whose arrival as team president in February 2008 began

the recovery that led to this point and whose business card

recently added the title of part-owner.

Just a few months after he won a financial wrestling match for

the club, Ryan got to watch them win a playoff series for the first

time. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say he had to watch because

after pitching in the big leagues for 27 seasons it was agonizing

being in the stands.

”It’s horrible,” he said, laughing. ”The two toughest things

I found in sports is to watch your children perform and be involved

with a team of this nature and not have any control over what’s

going on, that you’re strictly a spectator.”

The first-round finale was especially excruciating. Texas won

the first two games, then lost the next two. Although Lee dominated

Game 5 and the Rangers never trailed, Ryan said he couldn’t relax

until there was one out in the ninth. He was seen with tears in his

eyes once the celebrating began.

”That game felt like it lasted seven or eight hours to me,” he

said.

Ryan won a World Series as a young player on the 1969 Mets, but

never got back there in a career that lasted until 1993. He was

part of teams that got bounced in 1979 (Angels) and 1980, ’81 and

’86 (Astros).

He’s built the Rangers into AL West champs by emphasizing

pitching, of course. He wants starters going deep and throwing lots

of strikes. Lots of organizations have leaders who say that, but

none have a guy who can say it with the same credibility.

”I’d like to think that we built an attitude about pitching

that wasn’t here – that you can pitch in this ballpark and you can

be successful in this ballpark pitching here and you can keep the

ball in the yard,” he said.

Asked about the postseason prognosis, Ryan was in a tough

position. He knows they’ve already accomplished so much getting

this far, but he wasn’t about to make any bold predictions.

”The players truly believe that they are good players and that

they can win and there’s not a reason they can’t win,” he said.

”Every time you think that the backs were against the wall and it

looked like the wheels were going to come off of it, they did it

themselves. They found it within themselves to come back and turn

things around and I’m really proud of that, and the maturity that

I’ve seen develop in this ballclub.”

Ryan has dabbled in ranching and banking in his post-playing

career. So, how did those endeavors compare to baseball?

”Well,” he drawled, ”cattle don’t talk back to you and they

pretty much do what you asked of them.”