I had a wholesome and healthy childhood. Lots of broken bones. Lots of cursing and lying to my parents. Getting kicked out of class in kindergarten for kissing girls. One time I threw a rock through the windshield of my parent’s 1988 Dodge Caravan, just because it felt like the right thing to do.
At some point along the way, my dad allocated a particular black belt just for spanking my ass when I’d done something wrong (which was almost daily). We called it “the black belt.” Shit, that thing hurt.
I grew up on things like Jean Claude Van Damme movies. I didn’t care too much for Chuck Norris. I was more of a Van Damme guy, honestly. I smoked cigarettes in 6th grade, around the same time I saw my first playboy. It was a 70’s Playboy. Found it in my Uncle David’s basement.
As an 8-year-old, I was interested in what most normal Christian boys were into in 1991. Fast cars, Kathy Ireland, Michael Jordan, boxing movies, and Nolan Ryan.
Nolan Ryan was a badass. Now, technically my favorite player when I was a kid was Ozzie Smith. Certainly much different than Nolan Ryan in almost every way. I loved Ozzie because I myself was a small framed shortstop. I respected Ozzie, but I loved Nolan Ryan.
By the time I was 7 years old, Nolan Ryan was already 43 years old and playing for the Texas Rangers. He was on Advil commercials, in which he would pump iron and tell you that “Advil’s gentler on my stomach than Aspirin.” When he spoke, he sounded country. And he didn’t smile very much in photos. He was one BAD man.
We lived in Phenix City, Alabama during the year of 1990. One afternoon that summer, I was playing catch with my mom (sounds weird, I know, but my mom could throw better than Brooks Conrad). We were tossing the ball, when some older guy drove by in his truck, stopped, and hopped out. He had a mustache and said that he was the coach of some little league team (This is Ken, I was editing this article and at this point I was fairly certain Josh was about to tell me that Brian Snitker hit on his mom and coached him in little league ball). He told my mom that if I’d be interested, they could use a bat boy. (In retrospect, we believe this gentleman might have been hitting on my mom. But at the time, I viewed him as a general manager courting me into some type of long term contract to be the face of his franchise.)
I showed up to the field and guess what team they were? The Rangers. Basically, in my very small 7-year-old cranium, I was about to become Nolan Ryan. But, there was one problem. I couldn’t pitch.
To make a long story short, I showed up ready to play, not to retrieve bats from some 20-grade 8-year-olds. I somehow manipulated the powers to be, imagine that, to allow me to play in a game and I hit an inside the park homer. I ended up playing almost every game that season. It was one hell of a summer.
We had our pictures made for our own baseball cards at some point and I remember trying not to smile because Nolan Ryan didn’t smile. I couldn’t help it. I was too damn happy about being a Texas Ranger.
After being a Ranger, I felt like I could completely relate to Mr. Ryan. In 1992, my dad bought me Nolan’s autobiography for my birthday. Which was also Nolan Ryan’s birthday. It’s a birthday that we, Nolan and I, share (along with Ernie Banks and Jackie Robinson). No big deal.
That same year, Coca Cola partnered with Donruss and made a collection of Nolan Ryan cards that depicted his entire career. I have all of them. And then in 1993 the greatest thing ever happened. Nolan Ryan whooped Robin Ventura’s ass.
It was a Wednesday night. Robin Ventura had the terrific idea of charging the pitchers mound while Nolan Ryan was on it. The Ryan Express put Robin in a headlock and went to town. It’s all we talked about the next several days at school. Nolan Ryan was already a country bad ass, but this took him to a whole new level. Me and my friends would debate extremely important things on the school bus like, “Who you got in a fight? Bo Jackson or Nolan Ryan? You think Nolan Ryan could take Mike Tyson?”
We were spoiled with Nolan Ryan. He completely ruined us. We baby pitchers so much these days that we glorify a guy who can last 6 innings while giving up 3 runs. We call it a “quality start.” In 1990 we watched Nolan Ryan throw over 200 innings. As a 43 year old. The man had 77 games in which he was leading in the 7th inning and finished all 77 of them. The Ryan Express didn’t need a closer, because he was his own closer. He planned on finishing whatever he started. He was a MAN.
Every generation tends to think that their generation was the best. Or at the very least better than whoever the current youngsters are. I like to think that being a kid in the late 80’s and early 90’s was the best. When men were men and when fast cars, growing muscles and kicking Robin Ventura’s ass was cool.
You know what’s cool now? Jordan Spieth and being respectful to others. How boring.