7/31/2014 11:37 P.M. ET
Astros president Ryan opens SABR event
Son of Hall Famer reflects on life in baseball at convention in Houston
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- Leave it to the Ryan family to provide a Texas-sized welcome mat.
Reid Ryan, president of business operations for the Houston Astros, delivered the opening remarks Thursday at SABR 44, the annual convention for the Society of American Baseball Research.
Ryan touched on a wide variety of subjects, starting with his childhood in Houston and growing up with his dad, Hall of Fame legend Nolan Ryan. The younger Ryan also talked about his experience in creating two Minor League teams and his hopes for returning the Astros to prominence.
Ryan, 43, was born in Alvin, Texas, and his entire life has been spent around the game. Ryan told the crowd on Thursday that he was born in April 1971, a month before his dad was traded from the Mets to the Angels, and he said his childhood was basically a blur of baseball clubhouses.
The son of the game's all-time strikeout king played college ball at the University of Texas and at Texas Christian University, and he also played briefly in the Rangers' farm system. But when his playing career ended, Ryan did some soul-searching to decide how he could stay in the game he loved.
"One night, I was just sitting in a ballpark ... thinking about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. How can I make a career in the game of baseball," said Ryan. "My time in Austin kind of came to my head and what a great baseball town it was, and my time in the Minor Leagues, how much fun it is. The Minor Leagues really hadn't grown; There was a team in El Paso, there was a team in Midland and there was a team in San Antonio, and that was it for Minor League baseball in the state of Texas. I just decided, 'You know what? I'm going to go out and start a Minor League baseball team.'
"I came home that night, and my wife was a student at TCU. We were already married, and I said, 'You know what, babe? I'm going to start a Minor League baseball team.' And here was the answer: 'OK, great, I'm going back to bed.' So I had an endorsement, and that was the good news."
That dream would later reach fruition in the form of the Round Rock Express and the Corpus Christi Hooks, the Triple-A affiliate for Texas and Double-A affiliate for Houston, respectively. Ryan helped create those teams and their stadiums, which sparked a building boom in the rest of the region.
That process -- the revitalization of Minor League baseball in Texas and neighboring states -- is one of the things Ryan is most proud of in his young career. But his next ambition is nothing less than to make his father proud by getting the Astros back to where they were a generation or two ago.
"We want to make emotional connections with fans. And we want to win," Ryan said of his goals with the Astros. "We know it takes a little bit of luck. You've got to have a lot of things go your way. But we're really looking for that next core group of players that we can hang our hats on for a decade."
Ryan, who is in his current post since May of last season, goes back more than three decades with the Astros. He said his hometown of Alvin threw a pep rally when his dad first signed with Houston, and some of Ryan's fondest memories of his youth revolve around the Astros and the playoffs.
That experience didn't end in triumph -- the Astros lost to the Phillies in the National League Championship Series -- but Ryan said that it led to a lifetime of aspiration. Once you've been that close to a championship, he said, you want nothing more than to finish the job the next time.
"It was such a fun year in 1980 to see the Astros go to the playoffs for the first time," he said. "To be in that situation of Game Five against the Phillies, and for my dad to have the ball, to have a lead and to end up losing that game is still to this day the toughest loss that we've ever been a part of."
Ryan, interestingly, said that his father never had a pitching coach until he reached the Major Leagues, and he had a unique perspective of his dad's next team. Ryan, who had been close with the Angels and Astros as a child, found himself coming of age right at the end of his dad's career.
The year was 1989, and Reid Ryan was just 18. His father had just signed with Texas at the ripe old age of 42, and he would go on to provide a stabilizing influence for a wild and talented group. But for the younger Ryan, it was quite an experience to see how the next generation behaved itself.
"They had a lot of really, really young guys. It was a very fast and loose, fun environment unlike anything I had ever been around before," he said of the Rangers. "There was a little competition between Julio Franco and Ruben Sierra. Julio would go out and get some kind of sports car, maybe it was purple with more ground effects than you've ever seen. And Ruben would go out and top him.
"Things would go back and forth. So one day, at stretch, Julio shows up with two tigers. He had literally bought two baby tigers and brought them out on leashes. Ruben Sierra went out and got a wolf the very next day. When you have that kind of stuff going on, maybe you're not in the mindset to win."
Four years later, the younger Ryan was able to witness one of the most notorious moments of his dad's career. Ryan was playing in a collegiate summer league, and he drove from Kansas to Texas with one of his teammates for the game that featured a brawl between his father and Robin Ventura.
"Jeremy Giambi -- yeah, the guy didn't slide at home, that Jeremy Giambi -- and I drove from Kansas all the way to Arlington," he said, recalling the day. "The way we timed it, we were hoping to get there a little bit before the game and go down on the field, but traffic jammed us up. And literally, we walked in two pitches before the fight happened. I could not believe it. I always tell people, had one person run out on the field, I think it would've been 20,000 people out fighting the White Sox that day."
Ryan and his dad are both working for Houston these days, and they're both entirely focused on getting the team back to a competitive place in the league. Houston has had three straight 100-loss seasons, and the Astros have picked at the top of the First-Year Player Draft for three straight years.
But with those struggles comes potential. Ryan said he's thrilled with the talent the team has added in the last days of former general manager Ed Wade and through the Draft with current general manager Jeff Luhnow. There is still work to be done, said Ryan, but there's reason for optimism.
"We've got an uphill battle. No doubt about it," he said of rebuilding. "We're trying to do things differently. And when you're trying to do things differently, it's hard. Coming in and really tearing something down to bare bones and making the sausage in front of everybody's eyes is an ugly process. But I think we're starting to see -- with the group of players ever since Ed Wade was here to some of the guys we've been able to bring in over the last couple years -- we're starting to get more talent at the Major League level. ...They have people believing there's talent in the system again."
Ryan, with a lifetime in the game, has several baseball maxims to grow on. He said that former big-league player and coach Jimmy Reese's favorite piece of baseball advice was simply to treat people the way they want to be treated. Longtime manager Jackie Moore, who worked with Ryan as the manager of Round Rock, was fond of saying, "Right is right and wrong is wrong."
But appropriately, for the younger Ryan, the most cogent piece of advice comes from his dad.
"If I've heard my dad say this once, I've heard him say it 100 times. I couldn't have achieved anything in life or in this game had this not stuck with me," said the younger Ryan. "He always said, 'Don't let the failure of your last pitch ruin the success of your next one.' If you're worried about what happened last game, last at-bat, last pitch, you're not worried about the next one. You're not going to be prepared. And that's what we're trying to do with the Houston Astros. We're not worried about last season or the season behind that. We're not worried about the last series. We're worried about today."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.