Postcards from the Ledge: Remembering Greatness

Posted Sunday, May. 03, 2009  comments  Print Reprints
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It was one of those achy, bluesy days early summer days when Nolan Ryan simply wanted to relax in his recliner at home, sip a glass of iced tea and maybe watch a ballgame on TV, like any other weary 44-year-old man.

Only one problem with that plan, Stan.

Ryan was scheduled to pitch that night for the Texas Rangers.

It was May 1, 1991, and Ryan didn’t know it when he hauled his aching bones out to his car for the drive to The Ballpark in Arlington, but he was about to make baseball history yet one more time.

At the ballpark, he popped a couple of Advil — what else? — did a little extra stretching trying to get the kinks out, and warned pitching coach Tom House that he’d better keep a close eye on him.

“I wasn’t really feeling too good about my chances of getting very deep into the game that night,” Ryan said.

He had no idea that, incredibly, he was about to throw the seventh and final no-hitter of his career. All these years later, Sandy Koufax remains second on the list with four.

“I really thought that was part of my career that was behind me at that age,” Ryan said Friday, the 18th anniversary of his last no-no. The Rangers celebrated the event by handing out Ryan statuettes at Saturday night’s games. “You never anticipate a no-hitter and that was the farthest thing from my mind.”

Ryan was facing the Toronto Blue Jays that night, but 18 years later, the memories are beginning to fade.

“It was one of those days that everything came together,” he said. “Gary Pettis made a good catch in centerfield (on a Manny Lee blooper in the sixth) coming in on a ball, I remember that.

“I remember the last inning because they had three really fast guys coming up and I was worried about them hitting the ball on the ground and beating it out, or bunting.”

As the game entered the ninth, the Jays had had two baserunners (Kelly Gruber and Joe Carter) on Ryan’s only two walks. He would be facing Lee, Devon White and Roberto Alomar in the final inning.

Lee and White each rolled out easily to second baseman Julio Franco. That left only Alomar.

“I had a good curve and a good changeup that night, but in the ninth I pretty much stayed with the fastball,” Ryan recalled.

His 122nd and final pitch was a 93-mile-per-hour fastball that Alomar flailed at and missed.

The magical seventh was in the books and Ryan is still the oldest man in major league history to ever throw a no-hitter.

“It’s a relief when you first get it over with, because of being there before and knowing that last inning’s so tough,” Ryan said. “I was just elated that if happened there in Arlington (on Fan Appreciation Night, in fact). We had a good crowd and the fans just kept arriving during the game and they were so supportive of it.”

Of his 122 pitches, 83 were strikes. He struck out 16 and walked two. His fastball averaged 93, topping out at 96 in the fourth against Carter. Nine Blue Jays hitters struck out swinging at fastballs. Three swung and missed at third strike curveballs and another three stared at curves that dropped over for strike three. One fanned on a changeup (as good as it may have been, Ryan threw just 8 of them in the game).

Afterwards, Ryan celebrated the same way he did after every start. He climbed on the stationary bike in the clubhouse and did his obligatory post-game workout, his right shoulder and elbow wrapped in ice packs.

“And then I went to the house and went to bed,” Ryan said.

Which is where he’d wanted to stay in the first place.

ATTENDING CLASS

TCU may have fumbled the initial handling of the Brian Smith affair, barring the student reporter from further participation on the Mtn. cable network, at least through the auspices of the media relations department, but hopefully the athletic department learned something from its mistake. That would appear to be the case.

Athletic director Danny Morrison asked Smith to drop by his office for a meeting Friday and took the time to let Brian know that no one at TCU is mad at him, congratulated him for a fine four years at TCU — Smith graduates next weekend — and wished him well in the future. With growth comes growing pains.

SAFE AT HOME

Great news. If folks worried about swine flu are supposed to avoid crowds, that means The Ballpark in Arlington may be the safest place around.

GIVE HODGE A CHANCE

Far be it from me to think that Cowboys’ coaches don’t know what they’re doing, but I really hope they’ll give former TCU safety Stephen Hodge an opportunity to show what he can do at outside linebacker at some point, and not just stick him inside where his natural coverage skills may not be as useful.

In other words, don’t set him up for failure without giving him a chance. He’ll be a star on special teams, too, mark my words.

DEFENDING DIRK

Not many teams try to defend Dirk Nowitzki with a single player any more. Those that do generally get burned. But that’s initially what the Denver Nuggets have planned today as their second round series kicks off.

That’s because they have Kenyon Martin.

Nuggets head coach George Karl obviously has plenty of confidence in Martin. In last year’s playoffs, Karl put Martin on Kobe Bryant. In Denver’s just-completed first round series against New Orleans, Martin completely took the Hornets’ David West out of the picture.

Now his challenge is somehow keeping Dirk in check.

Martin, who lives in Arlington, figures he’ll get help if he needs it.

“Sometimes it takes the first quarter, or the first half, or sometimes all of Game 1 to totally figure out how you want to play something,” Martin told the Denver Post on Friday. “They're not going to play us the way they played San Antonio; we're not going to play them the same way we played New Orleans.

“They'll run some of the plays they ran during the regular season, but not all of them, and they'll put some things in them that we haven't seen before, or they'll change the calls. It's like the night before a finals exam. You're just cramming, so you can be there mentally.”

PROTECTING THE BALL

One reason the Mavs defeated the Spurs in five games is because Jason Kidd simply didn’t turn the ball over. He has to continue that trend against Denver.

“They thrive on turnovers and getting down and getting fast-break points,” Kidd pointed out. “If we want to win any game in this series, we have to protect the ball and protect our paint.”

Do I hear an “Amen” out there?

SNEAK PREVIEW

Fans wanting an early peek at the Fort Worth Cats, who opened training camp Friday, can catch them at LaGrave Field Monday night when they take on the rival Grand Prairie Air Hogs, but don’t be surprised if you’re knocking elbows with a pack of major league scouts.

Aaron Crow, the ninth overall pick in last June’s major league draft by the Washington Nationals, is scheduled to start for the Cats. He has yet to sign with the Nats and will go back into this year’s draft if that doesn’t happen in the next month or so.

Crow won’t be the only No. 1 pick on display, though. Brad Sullivan, a pitcher selected first (25th overall) by Oakland back in 2003 is trying to make himself over into an outfielder, ala St. Louis’ Rick Ankiel. Sullivan was an All-American at the University of Houston in 2002 (13-1, 1.83 ERA) and a three-time All-State selection at Nederland High School.

Twelve of the 22 players are back from last year’s squad, along with the entire coaching staff, led by manager Chad Tredaway, pitching coach James Frisbie and the legendary Wayne Terwilliger, who at 83 will be entering his 61st year of pro ball as the Cats first base coach.

The Cats are gunning for their fourth championship in five years.

RUMBLE IN THE SQUARE

Fight Night at Sundance Square returns this Friday night with Fort Worth’s Brian Vera (16-2), the star of the 2007 “Contender” reality TV show, taking on undefeated Craig McEwan (14-0) of Edinburgh, Scotland, in the main event and there’s something special about boxing in downtown Fort Worth.

The Oscar De La Hoya promotion has been a nice success for the last five years and has been known to bring more than 3,000 people into the Square to catch the action.

Former U.S. National Amateur champion Charles Hatley, a junior middleweight, is also on the card.

First fight is on tap at 7:30 p.m.

Jim Reeves 817-390-7760

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