My Childhood Idol

Today we visited the Nolan Ryan Museum in Alvin, Texas – a pilgrimage I’ve been waiting to make since it opened in 1996.

Baseball was life growing up, and there’s one player I respected above all others. For twenty seven years – seven years before I was born and until the year I graduated from high school, Nolan Ryan was my role model – hard working, scientific, charitable and humble. I had over 300 different baseball cards featuring his image, as well as eight posters, two of his books, a lamp and an autographed photo.

Until he retired in 1993, at the ripe old age of 46, he was the ultimate power pitcher with a fastball that regularly reached the high 90s, and sometimes faster. He was an 8-time major league all-star, holds the major league record for career strikeouts with 5,714 (the next closest player, Randy Johnson has only 4,875 and he’s retired), and had 324 wins.

In addition, Ryan holds the major league record for no-hitters with seven, he’s tied with Bob Feller for the most one-hitters and he’s pitched 18 two-hitters. He was elected to the Hall of Fame with the highest first-time election votes in history (appearing on 98.79% of the ballots).

He is one of only 29 players in baseball history to have appeared in Major League games in four separate decades. And, in a time when so many major leaguers have done things the wrong way, Ryan used a revolutionary workout scheduled, and holistic approach to nutrition to extend his career eleven years past my current age. Each morning when I wake up with a sore back, or twist my ankle doing something ridiculous like checking the mail, I marvel at Ryan’s accomplishments.

Today, he is part-owner of two minor league baseball teams and owns a beef company in Texas that produces organic meat. In February 2008, he was hired as president of the Texas Rangers (the team for which he last pitched for in 1993), and is now the principal owner of the team.

The museum is small, but thorough, beginning with his amateur career – where he was an absolute phenomenon, throwing so hard that he none of his catchers could last too long behind the plate with him. The next four stations feature his career divided into the four teams for which he played:  New York Mets, California Angels, Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers, each with key accomplishments.

There’s also a complete list of all of his strikeout victims, 63 of whom he struck out 15 or more times (Hall of Famers Rod Carew – 29 times, Carlton Fisk – 24 times, Dale Murphy – 23 times, and Reggie Jackson – 22 times are all near the top) and the list includes seven father and son strikeout victims.

Maybe the coolest part is an interactive pitch-catch exhibit where the visitor “feels” a Nolan Ryan fastball in a catcher mitt. A dream come true, finally catching a Nolan Ryan heater.