Baseball, Family, Sports

My Baseball Life

In addition to my 2008 MLB Preview, I’ve decided to do an in-depth look at the Houston Astros. But before I get to that preview (which will likely be posted Friday or this weekend), I thought it would be nice to explain my history with the Astros and baseball in general to you. Some of you are subscribers to my site because of OneRepublic, some of you because of UFC or affiliate marketing, and I want you to understand why you’ll see so many baseball posts on this blog during the upcoming season in the hopes that they don’t drive you away.

To truly understand how deep my ties to the Astros run, you have to know a little of my own personal history. I started my life in Alvin, Texas, a small town outside of Houston. It is famous for almost nothing outside of being able to claim Nolan Ryan as one of its own, and it does so with great pride. Long before the Nolan Ryan Museum opened its doors and the highway leading into town was renamed the Nolan Ryan Expressway in honor of the hometown kid who made good, I started my life as an Astros fan. I did so not only because the Stros were the hometown team, but also because my grandparents were very good friends with the Ryan family. My grandfather was a friend of the Ryan family when Nolan was still in junior high school, and that friendship extended to Nolan once he left Alvin for New York to join the Amazing Mets.

That friendship continued throughout the 60’s, 70’s and on into my youth. I would often spend Saturdays at the Ryan home in Alvin, playing baseball with Nolan’s sons Reese and Reid. I think I even had a crush on Wendy Ryan, who was a year older than I but still the prettiest thing I’d ever seen to that point in my life. Every year or two, my family and I would join my grandparents on Grandpa’s expensive motorhome and make the trek to Kissimmee, Florida for Astros spring training. Sometimes we’d stay a week, sometimes three.

Because of Grandpa’s friendship with Nolan, we had free access to the entire Astros complex, and I’d spend my days playing the games children play with Reese and Reid. Most of the time, that game was baseball or some variation of it. Reid was far older than Reese and I and thus would dominate the games we’d play, but it didn’t matter. We were playing our little pickup baseball games alongside the same field where Nolan Ryan, Mike Scott, Glenn Davis and the rest of the major leaguers were preparing themselves for the grueling 162-game season to come. Larry Anderson often paid us the most attention during these games, even stepping in to team with me against the two Ryan brothers. I think that may have been the only game in the history of those pickup games where I ended up on the winning team.

At night, Nolan would sometimes take us out to eat. One vivid memory I have is of me, eating cocktail shrimp and listening to Nolan talk about ranching with Grandpa. Even Nolan talking about ranching was far more interesting to me than just about anything else, and I guess you could say it was because he’d become one of my personal heroes.

Grandpa also had season tickets to the Astros for as long as I can remember. They were on the 6th row, directly behind home plate, and I cannot imagine how much they must have cost him. I attended most of the major games in Astros history during the 1980’s, from Mike Scott’s no hitter to clinch the Astros division championship and a trip to face the New York Mets in the NLCS to most of Nolan’s big home games as an Astro. I cheered wildly for Glenn David and Jose Cruz and Enos Cabell, and I loved Craig Biggio’s fire when he came into the majors. Those of you who are longtime Astros fans may remember the crazy old man who sat behind home plate who always made a perfect rendition of a train horn whenever Nolan would score a strikeout or do something great; that was my Grandpa.

When Nolan left the Astros, my Grandpa followed. He never became a Rangers fan, but he was Nolan’s friend and a fan, so he bought tickets to Rangers games as well. They would pick me up after school in the motorhome, and we’d travel to Arlington to watch Nolan pitch at the old Arlington Stadium. I was there live and in person for his 5,000th strikeout and his 7th no hitter, and even have a game ball from that last no hitter of his great career.

As a pitcher in little league and high school, I modeled myself after Nolan. I had an almost-perfect rendition of his delivery, from the high leg kick to the follow through, and I used with great success. I firmly believe that if I hadn’t been lazy and leery of anything involving tiring myself physically, that I probably could have made myself into a successful pitcher. Would I have made the major leagues? I’d like to think so, but time and fading memory probably distorts my view of what I was at the time. I know I threw a mean fastball for a 9th grader and had a pretty nice bite to my curve, but that doesn’t mean I had what it took to be a major league pitcher or even a collegiate hurler. If I’d been able to make myself work out, to dedicate myself to the art when it no longer seemed easy for me to strike out hitters, I might have been able to do something with it.

I remember exactly what I was doing when I heard the news that Nolan retired. I was sitting in computer class and someone handed me a newspaper saying that he was hanging up his spikes. I was sad, but only to a certain point, because I knew that he’d had one of the most extraordinary careers in the history of baseball.

Sometime in the late 80’s or early 90’s, I can’t remember exactly when, Nolan bought a bank in Alvin. He asked Grandpa to serve on the board of directors of that bank, and I’d like to think that it was one of the greatest honors of Grandpa’s life to do so.

Over the years, Grandpa amassed quite a collection of baseball memorabilia. He had the requisite Ryan rookie cards, but he also had game balls, jerseys, and other stuff that had been either given to him by Nolan throughout the years or purchased at auctions. He bought anything he could with Nolan’s name on it, and to this day his collection of Ryan cards and memorabilia is probably the greatest collection on the planet. I think that most of the stuff was donated to the Ryan Museum in Alvin, but up until about 5 years ago MeMaw (our name for my grandmother) still had an entire room dedicated to Nolan Ryan. To this day, I still think it would be fun to just go and sit in that room for a few hours and think about all the good times baseball has given me.

It is my hope that, after reading the 1200 or so words I’ve just typed, you’ll understand why I love baseball so much, and I hope you’ll forgive me for writing so much about it. I am SO excited about the upcoming season of America’s Pastime, and I hope some of you are as well.

Let’s play ball.

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