|Ryan trying to help revitalize Rangers from front office, instead of mound|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 14 March 2008 07:26|
From a much different angle.
Too bad for the Rangers that Ryan is wearing a warmup jacket with slacks and sitting in the front row evaluating the team during a spring training game, rather than being in uniform on the mound intimidating another batter like he did in his heyday.
Nearly two decades after first pitching for the Rangers, the 61-year-old Hall of Famer is back in a new role as team president. And the expectations are much: revitalize a team that has never won a playoff series, and has only one winning season since 1999.
``That might be the organization's best acquisition over the winter,'' said Rangers bench coach Art Howe, a former teammate of Ryan's in Houston. ``He knows the game inside and out, and will be nothing but a positive.''
The Ryan Express commanded the mound with toughness, a blazing fastball and an unmatched work ethic that produced seven no-hitters and 5,714 strikeouts over a record 27 major league seasons.
Now, Ryan is in control of the entire Rangers organization, one long plagued by pitching problems. He will oversee everything from evaluation of players and prospects to business aspects such as selling tickets in a market where attendance has dropped.
``We haven't had a lot to be proud of for a while,'' Ryan said. ``We'd like to think we're taking a route that is going to put us in the right direction. ... I can't go out and say we're going to be competing for a world championship in two years because I don't know that.''
Since taking the job before spring training, Ryan has repeatedly mentioned the ``learning curve'' he faces as a first-time team president.
Instead of making immediate changes, which seem inevitable if Ryan wants to mold a team in his image, he has initially taken a measured approach. Ryan first wants to fully evaluate things, and isn't sure how long that will take.
``If he's not happy with the direction it's going, he'll have the authority to make those changes,'' said Reid Ryan, the oldest of two sons who are executives for the two minor league teams in Texas their famous father owns. ``I like his attitude ... take a season to evaluate, see what everybody does. Next year, you will see him having more of an imprint.''
Nolan Ryan's name is already being associated with everything Rangers, including a recent select-a-seat promotion at the team's ballpark, where he did a question-and-answer session with fans. At the end of spring training games, people crowd toward his front-row seat seeking an autograph.
While all of that is part of Ryan's job, his ultimate goal is to turn the Rangers into consistent winners and playoff contenders. And do to that, he won't be a figurehead president or, as he heard one radio commentator suggest, a ``Rangers mascot.''
This is much different than the role Ryan had for 10 years after he retired as a player in 1993, when the Rangers used him primarily in a promotional and ceremonial role as he fulfilled a personal-services contract with the team.
``When they hired Nolan Ryan (as president), I was like I don't know if that was a ploy to satisfy the fans or if it's some dedication to winning,'' partial season-ticket holder Thomas Mooney said after Ryan's ballpark appearance. ``He seems to be genuine. ... When you hear him in person as opposed to a sound bite, I was happy with the answers he gave.''
Ryan was always a fan favorite as a player for the Rangers, even though he was already in his 40s when he arrived after nine seasons with the Astros.
It was during his five-season stretch in Texas (1989-93) that Ryan got his last two no-hitters, 5,000th strikeout and 300th victory. His No. 34 is the only jersey worn by a Ranger to be retired, and there is a statue of him in the center field plaza at the ballpark.
After his personal-services contract expired with the Rangers, Ryan took a similar position with Houston - and the Astros used him for more than public relations.
Ryan was involved in scouting, worked with pitchers and was consulted about personnel moves and the drafts. The Astros went to their only World Series in 2005.
``He had a lot of equity in that, and I think he really enjoyed it,'' Reid Ryan said. ``He's got a tremendous amount of knowledge and amount of years in the game that I think he's looking to share.''
Former Rangers presidents under owner Tom Hicks were primarily business-oriented and had little if any role in baseball operations. While Ryan's a baseball guy first, he's also a cattle rancher and successful businessman, having owned banks and a line of beef products that carry his name.
``We had to decide this would be a better alternative for us than the path we were on,'' Hicks said. ``That was easy when Nolan said he was prepared to commit to it.''
For Ryan, the timing and the opportunity were finally right to do something he had thought about since he was still playing.
``I always wanted to get involved with a ballclub where I could have some influence on the development and the direction of the ballclub,'' he said. ``The window, I thought, at my age if I wanted to do this, I'd have to take advantage of this opportunity or probably not do it.''
On the same day Ryan signed his deal, the Rangers extended the contract of 30-year-old general manager Jon Daniels by two years through the 2011 season, coinciding with the length of Ryan's. Daniels had been Ryan's primary source so far, through numerous conversations, in determining the state of the franchise.
``Probably what has impressed me the most is how down to earth he is,'' Daniels said. ``In the opening meeting with the staff, he did a tremendous job in his presentation, delivering his message and making everyone feel comfortable with him.''
Ryan hasn't become an imposing figure, yet. While he will be available to players, he doesn't plan to spend a lot of time ``in their clubhouse'' and was only seen occasionally walking through there this spring. Still, pitchers especially look forward to being around him.
``To have him here in this type of role, having him be more hands-on, you can't get any better advice than from one of the best pitchers of all time,'' said starter Jason Jennings, who grew up in the Dallas area watching Ryan pitch for the Rangers.
Ryan won 51 games pitching for the Rangers, and 324 overall. While he no longer can have a direct impact on the field, he is now trying to put together a team that can win like he used to do, and that challenge has given him a new sense of anticipation.
``There is an excitement I haven't seen from him in a long time,'' Reid Ryan said. ``Maybe since he's been playing.''
Associated Press Writer David Jimenez contributed to this report from Arlington, Texas.