Nolan Ryan taught me how to pitch.
I learned every move he had, from the way he held his glove as he started his windup, to the high leg kick, to the explosion off the pitching rubber as another 100 mph-plus fastball hurdled toward the plate.
Oh, I had everything he had.
Minus the 100 mph fastball.
Or any fastball, really.
As a young, short, slightly chubby pitcher with an arm weakened from an elbow injury, I was a walking changeup, fooling batters into preparing for a blazing fastball only to swing early and miss as a low-speed meatball came sauntering (ambling? traipsing? All are accurate) down the middle. Then they’d adjust and go to town.
In short, I was awful for anything other than batting practice (and, based on the number of balls put into play, fielding practice).
Also, Nolan Ryan didn’t personally teach me. I should probably clarify that, although most people have undoubtedly solved that mystery by now.
He did, however, have his name attached to what was one of my four favorite childhood books: Pitching and Hitting by Nolan Ryan and Joe Torre. It covered everything a young baseball player needed to know, namely, how to pitch and how to hit. Fielding and base-running, I guess, you could learn on the fly.
I loved many things as a child, but baseball and reading ranked high on my list, so being able to read about how to play baseball was my childhood equivalent of peanut butter meets chocolate (I also loved to eat). The point is, I studied that book, to the point that more than 30 years later, I can still recall the pictures of Torre explaining how to align your knuckles when batting.
Despite his fantastic instructions, I never became a fan of Torre. I selected Rickey Henderson as my go-to guru (my American [League] Idol?), using some sort of modified batting style between what I learned from Torre in the book and Henderson on the field.
Ryan, though, remained my favorite pitcher.
As young men of that era were wont to do, I collected baseball cards, with about 40 percent of my interest being in future money and 60 percent in having collectibles of the players I liked best. From their rookies to whatever the latest product had been released, I had handfuls of Hendersons, mounds of Mattinglys and Griffey Jrs, Gwynns and Goodens galore.
I only had a few Nolan Ryan Cards, and could only dream of his rookie: a 1968 Topps, which at the time was priced for a few hundred dollars.
Even though I had quite a nice collection, including many valuable-at-the-time cards, the Ryan remained out of reach.Time passed, and I quit collecting, turning my attention to other interests (i.e. girls), and both my collection and desire to expand that collection collected dust.
Now, many years later, I have become an avid collector (and seller) of comic books. I appreciate the artistry on the covers (and, OK, I appreciate the dollars collectors are willing to pay for some of the key comics). That renewed interest in collecting, though, had me searching eBay for other items, and before long going down that particular rabbit hole had me looking at that long-desired Nolan Ryan rookie card.
Sure, it wasn’t in great shape, but it was real, and the price was too good to pass up, so I made an offer.
Maybe the excitement in waiting for the offer to be accepted, rejected or countered can’t compare with the thrill 10-year-old Kevin felt in opening wax packs to see what treasures awaited, but that’s mainly because eBay doesn’t provide a stick of gum like Topps did.
So, when the seller accepted my offer, I gave a little shout, just a small tip of the cap to one of my childhood dreams that has finally been realized.
I guess I can now turn my attention to the next goal from that long-ago list: become Spider-Man.