Reid (left) and Nolan Ryan.
Reid Ryan is the oldest son of legendary Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher, Hall of Famer, and Little League® Hall of Excellence member (1990), Nolan Ryan. For most of his youth, Reid’s friends viewed his father as just a guy who played baseball. That all changed after the 1979 season when Nolan was traded from the California Angels to the Houston Astros, becoming baseball's first million-dollar-a-year player. That’s when Reid’s friends started to realize his dad was no normal father. They didn’t treat Reid all that different, but his pals definitely benefited from playing with a Ryan on their team.
Little League recently spoke with Reid, the Houston Astros President of Business Operations about how his father pulled a few strings for him and his Little League friends, playing in the same Little League as his father, and how Little Leaguers® can learn from adversity.
Little League – Tell us about your Little League experience in Texas?
Reid Ryan – I played in the Alvin American League, the same as my dad, which was really cool. We actually played on the same field. I played in Alvin, which had about 25,000 people. We had two leagues, the American League and the National League. The whole community would go to the city championship. Games would start at noon, with the championship game at seven or eight in the evening. It was amazing. Little League was such a huge, formative part of my life. I had so much fun. I remember in Alvin’s Minor League, we played in a team T-shirt and jeans. In the Major League, we got baseball pants. That was a really big deal for me and my friends.
LL – Do you still see some of those friends?
RR – I do, and to this day, we talk about plays in Little League. Do you remember when so and so hit this or made that play! I can still name every guy on the regular season team, and All-Star team. I was good friends with this kid named Scott. He was 12. I was 11. It was the championship game. I was playing second, and shaded up the middle. The kid at the plate hit a screamer. I dove, caught it, and stepped on second before Scott could get back. Game over. I still talk to him about that play!
LL – Did your friends think it was cool that your dad was Nolan Ryan?
RR – It wasn’t really that big a deal until he got traded back home to the Astros, and became the game’s first million-dollar-a-year player. People and my friends started to take notice more. Then, there’s probably the greatest story in Alvin Little League history. That definitely got the attention of my friends.
LL – Go on ...
RR – Well, it was the 1983 or 1984 All-Stars. We had a summer of terrible rains. Downpours every day. Our team couldn’t practice for a week straight, maybe even two. My dad got our team into the Astrodome to practice! I had been there a lot, so it wasn’t new to me, but I can still see the looks on the faces of the other kids. It was just like that scene in one of those Bad News Bears movies. While we all loved it, our league took some heat from other leagues for doing that, so we only practiced in the Astrodome once. It was worth it. My friends loved it. At the time, it was the greatest moment of their lives.
LL – Any other time being Nolan Ryan’s son help you during your Little League career?
RR – There was one fundraiser where we had to sell chocolate bars. Because of my dad, I was able to go to the Astrodome, and sell them! There I was, this little kid, walking up and down, selling these chocolate bars for a dollar, which was cheaper than anything else that was being sold. There were 40,000 people there, and there I am selling chocolate bars! I look back now, and it’s comical. I sold so many! There was a contest involved with the fundraiser. The kid who sold the most won a bike. Well, I won the bike, but my dad made me give it to the kid who came in second place. He knew what kind of advantage I had. I didn’t like giving away the bike at the time, but realize now it was an important life lesson.
LL – Did your dad ever coach you?
RR – Because of his schedule and travel, he couldn’t. It was tough for him to make a lot of my games, too, but he always checked in, and would work with me when he was home. While my dad didn’t coach me, my mom did!
LL – Having played baseball at the professional level in the past, and now working as an executive with the Astros, what do you think MLB players can learn from Little Leaguers?
RR – To remember to love the game, and, to be honest, most do. They should also remember what baseball was like when there weren’t outside influences, and a lot of extra commitments. Try to be like a kid playing Little League, who views it as just a game. Fans want to watch the pros who play with an unbridled love of the game. And, while Little Leaguers are fans of our guys, we’re fans of theirs, too, and that’s evident during the Little League Baseball® World Series. Our guys watch that every summer. It brings them back to when they were kids, and had fun.
Reid Ryan (left) and José Altuve.
LL – The Houston Astros have held Little League Days at the stadium, supported Little League’s Urban Initiative Jamboree when it comes to Houston, and have developed the Community Leaders program that renovates baseball and softball fields in Houston. Why is helping the youth in Houston so important to the organization?
RR – A lot of the credit for our involvement goes to Jim Crane, our owner. It’s his vision to see the game grow in inner cities. Sure, we want to create more fans, but it’s bigger than that. Like Little League, we want to create life lessons to make better citizens.
LL – You mentioned prior that your mother coached you in Little League. Have you coached any of your children?
RR – Jackson is 16, Victoria is 14, and Ella is 12. I’ve coached them all. My wife played college basketball, so the girls now play a lot of that sport. My son, Jackson, has cerebral palsy. He has limited use on the right side, but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming a really good pitcher. He went 6-1 last year. He wears a special glove, and looks up to Jim Abbot (Major League Baseball pitcher born without a right hand). Jackson is so determined, and is a student of the game.
LL – What can Little Leaguers learn from Jackson’s perseverance?
RR – To work hard, no matter what. You can’t feel sorry for yourself when things don’t go the way you expect them. Take any disadvantage, and use it as an advantage. I told Jackson, think of it this way... instead of being a righty pitcher like all the other Ryans, consider it a blessing that you’re a unique lefty!