If only by happenstance, we’ll mark the occasion of the 100th issue of this magazine with that of Nolan Ryan’s 75th birthday. The connection reveals itself when you look at our first cover in 2013 and see the Hall of Fame legend standing in front of The Ballpark in Arlington – a place he said was “a gem of all the ballparks.”
Everybody knows that Nolan is a celebrated player who holds a total of 51 Major League Baseball records. The connection with his milestone birthday seems like a good time to recall a few lesser-known things about his role in Arlington’s history.
He arrived here as a Texas Ranger in 1989 at the age of 42. He was under only a one-year contract because most 40+ year old baseball players are in the twilight of their careers. Team owners thought that it would be great for him to spend what might be his final year in baseball wearing his already famous No. 34 on a Rangers jersey.
As it turned out, he would take the mound in Arlington for five consecutive seasons, setting records that will never be broken and bringing national attention to our town that it had not known before.
Just a year after he became a Ranger, we approached him about helping us meet the challenge of informing Arlington residents about the importance of building a new ballpark that would ensure the permanence of our status as a major league city.
The first thing we asked him to do was to throw out the ceremonial first pitch launching the campaign to win the approval of voters who were going to be asked to support the development of the partnership between the city and the ballclub.
Our plan was to announce the beginning of it all at a big luncheon event at the Arlington Convention Center and then move to the adjoining land area where the new ballpark would be built for the first-pitch event.
Serving as mayor at the time, I would be the catcher.
Nolan not only eagerly accepted the invitation but suggested that he throw not one but three pitches to see just how capable I was of handing his fabled fast ball. He cautioned that missing any one of the pitches would not be good.
Would anyone refuse such a suggestion? Well, neither did I. So, proceeding with catcher’s mitt, chest protector, face guard and helmet I set up at “home plate” and waited for the heat.
I still don’t know for sure how, but I managed to catch all three – including the last one that he deliberately threw in the dirt to “see if I could handle it.” I have all three of the balls in my collection. Nolan signed them and one with a note, “Mayor, you did a nice job catching.”
In January 1991, Arlington voters overwhelmingly approved the plan for the new ballpark, and on the first day of the following May, Nolan pitched his history-making seventh no hitter. The game took place on Arlington Appreciation Day. Among all the celebratory national media coverage, Nolan said this: “I think this no-hitter is the most rewarding because it was in front of these hometown fans who have supported me since I have been here. This one was for them.”
After the Rangers first World Series in 2010 when Nolan was the team’s president, he and former all-star catcher Jim Sundberg presented me with a commemorative American League Championship ring. Nolan said, “this is for you, mayor, in appreciation for all that Arlington has done for me and our ballclub.”
My wife and I were present at Cooperstown when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and no one could miss his reflected glory shining vividly on Arlington where his reputation grew from baseball hero to one of the game’s all-time legends.