Astros President of Baseball Operations Reid Ryan delivered a 45-minute monologue to open the 44th annual SABR convention at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Houston Thursday morning. Before all of the trade deadline hoopla that took place yesterday afternoon, Ryan spoke of his love for the game and the state he grew up in.
The son of Texas legend Nolan Ryan is passionate about three things. Baseball, Texas, and people. His love for all three has made him one of the most successful pioneers of the game — especially as it applies to the growth of minor league baseball in the state of Texas.
Born in 1971, Ryan’s earliest memories of the game come from the time his family spent in Southern California when his father was playing for the Angels — and involve the people that made a lasting impression on a youngster that would grow up in the game. Jimmie Reese, Gene Autry, and Don Baylor are among the special people that had a positive impact on Ryan at an early age.
One story he told involved an 8-year old Reid getting hit by a car. Don Baylor came to visit him in the hospital and ended up promising the youngster that he would hit a homerun for him that night. In true Hollywood-like fashion, Baylor delivered. That’s the kind of memory that still makes Ryan smile some 35 years later.
Ryan also reminisced about moving to Houston in 1980. In his father’s first season with the Astros the team captured its first ever National League West division title. Unfortunately, the Astros were knocked out of the playoffs in a hard fought 5-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies. Nolan started Game 5, a contest that wouldn’t be decided until the tenth inning when the Phillies pushed across the winning run against Frank LaCorte. Ryan and the Astros had taken a 5-2 lead into the seventh inning but the eventual World Series Champs were able to mount a comeback against the strikeout king.
Reid Ryan referred to that game as “the toughest loss our family has ever been a part of”. But he went on to talk about how that team “energized the community and instilled a desire for him to be in the game of baseball”. Ryan refers to the Astros of the 1980’s as “my team” and “my guys”. Players like Billy Hatcher often came to see Reid compete in youth sports and remain friends with him and the family to this day.
Family is a big part of what Ryan believes in. When speaking about the current Astros club he says “We want to make a connection with fans. We want to win with a core group of guys.”
Ryan also talked about his family’s move to Arlington in 1989. Although his first impression of what he called “an old minor league stadium” left much to be desired, Ryan went on to say it was a “fun environment unlike anything I’d been around before”. One of the most entertaining moments of his speech came when he explained how Julio Franco brought a pair of baby tigers in one day and Ruben Sierra countered by bringing a wolf the next day.
Reid also revisited the night Robin Ventura charged the mound after being hit by a Nolan Ryan pitch. Reid was playing in a collegiate summer league at the time and he and teammate Jeremy Giambi had arrived at the game only a couple of pitches prior to the incident. Reid’s take on that moment was “if one person had run onto the field there would have been 20,000 people fighting Ventura”. Don’t mess with Texas — and especially Nolan Ryan.
When his pitching career came to an end after a short stint in the Rangers organization, Reid Ryan knew that he wanted to stay in the game in some other capacity. Realizing that “the fun we had in the minors was unparallelled in the majors”, Reid proclaimed that he “wanted to start a minor league baseball team”. At this time, in the early 1990’s, there were only three minor league teams in the state of Texas. Reid started knocking on doors in an effort to change that.
His persistence paid off and Reid found an interested party — the Mayor of Round Rock. Ryan successfully built the Dell Diamond and started a AAA team there along with the help of Don Sanders and others. Ryan also played a key role as a consultant during the construction of new stadiums in Midland, Frisco, El Paso, and several other cities in Texas and the region. In short, baseball fans in Texas have a lot to thank him for.
Lastly, Ryan spoke of his newest role with the Astros and the commitment to helping build a winning team for the people of Houston.
The opportunity to come to Houston and try to win a championship was something special. It’s an uphill battle, but we have restocked and are in position. We still may be a year or two away but we think it’s coming.
Ryan then closed out his address with a quote from his father that has helped guide him through his career. “Don’t let the failure of your last pitch ruin the success of your next one”.
Reid Ryan is well on his way to becoming a Texas legend just like his father. He was the right person to kick off SABR-days as declared by Mayor Anise Parker. The conference runs through Sunday so come on down to the Royal Sonesta and be a part of Houston baseball history.