The Huntsville Item, Huntsville, TX

Local News

April 30, 2012

Nolan Ryan speaks at SHSU

HUNTSVILLE — Baseball Hall of Famer and Texas legend Nolan Ryan delighted guests with tales of his childhood and professional pitching career Monday night on the campus of Sam Houston State University.

In front of a full crowd inside the Gaertner Performing Arts Center, Ryan, who played for four teams during his 27-year career including the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros, left Bearkat fans thinking about what might have been had fate worked out a little bit differently.

Ryan said that coming out of high school he wanted to play baseball for Tom Chandler at Texas A&M, but the legendary coach told him he should probably go to a community college first. Ryan then committed to Sam Houston, where his brother and two of his sisters earned their degrees.

But the New York Mets swooped in and drafted Ryan in 1965 and he would go on to rewrite the MLB record books.

“That was about as close as I got to being a Bearkat,” Ryan said.

Ryan was the featured guest for “Mingling with a Major Leaguer” on Monday which was part of the President’s Speaker Series and produced by the students of Priority One, a course within the university’s department of mass communication. He fielded questions from SHSU president Dana Gibson and Peter Roussel, the Warner Endowed Chair of Journalism.

Ryan talked about helping his father deliver a paper route for the Houston Post when he was growing up in Alvin, which helped pay for his sisters to go to college. He joked that Sam Houston State was the beneficiary of that money.

He also brought a roar of laughter from the crowd when Gibson asked him what the secret of his longevity during his playing career was which saw seven different presidents in the White House, beginning with Lyndon B. Johnson and ending with Bill Clinton.

“I’m just glad you did not say Lincoln,” Ryan said with a laugh.

Ryan played with the Mets, California Angels and Astros before finishing up with the Rangers, which he is currently principal owner, president and CEO. He holds the MLB record for strikeouts (5,714) and no-hitters (seven) and won more than 300 games. He is also a successful cattle rancher and business man.

“I have been blessed because I have two passions in life — baseball and the cattle business — and I have been successful at both,” Ryan said. “For some reason when I was a little boy I wanted to be in the cattle business. Baseball afforded me that opportunity and I have been able to be in the cattle business for almost 40 years.”

Ryan also offered some advice to the students who were on hand for whatever future endeavors might await them.

“I believe in treating people the way you want to be treated and I really feel that is important,” he said. “No matter what field you go into, have a passion for what you are doing and that you are happy. I feel it is very important to be happy in doing what you are doing and that your relationship with your coworkers is important.”

Of course Ryan could not escape the evening without being asked about his famous run-in with Robin Ventura of the Chicago White Sox in 1993. During a game, Ryan hit Ventura with a pitch, and the third baseman, who was 20 years younger, charged the mound.

Ryan grabbed Ventura, who is now the manager of the White Sox, in a headlock and got in several punches before the fight was broken up. The topic was a big story earlier this season when the White Sox came to Arlington to open the season against the Rangers.

Ryan said that he had two similar instances like that happen to him earlier in his career against Hall of Famers Willie McCovey and Dave Winfield.

“When Robin came out, I was just relieved he was a normal-sized person,” Ryan said as he brought another round of laughter from the crowd. “I could see eye to eye with him.”


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