Two and a Half Hours with Reid Ryan
During the week of Winter Meetings this past December, I was in Nashville. Unfortunately I wasn’t in town for anything related to baseball. Last fall I made the switch from corporate tax law shill to law firm shill, and I was in Nashville for a few days of planning meetings with a client. I never realized how neat of a city Nashville really is. Nashville isn’t one of those cities that’s been a recreational family destination unless you’re attending a Titans game or unless you want to visit Dollywood, and neither of those have ever seemed terribly appealing to me. The client put me up at the Loews Vanderbilt, only a quick walk from Music Row, and I enjoyed the nearby establishments for food and drink much more than I expected.
Over the course of the parts of 3 days and 2 nights I spent in Nashville, it crossed my mind more than once to make a personal trip out to Gaylord Opryland Resort and just walk around for a while. Sort of keep my ear to the ground, take it all in, look around for ballplayers and coaching staff I could recognize, maybe pick up on a Hot Take exclusive for SDI. As it turned out, I was too busy with meetings at my client’s office and I was too tired at the end of the day both days to take that time so I missed out on the chance to possibly bump into Scott Boras in a hotel hallway.
Late in the afternoon on Wednesday, December 9, I texted my taxi driver to meet me so I could get to the airport for my flight home and I thought, if nothing else, I appreciated his bar recommendations over the past 2 days. At the same time I was frustrated that my flight back home to Tulsa had a connection through Houston. “Why the hell can’t Nashville have a direct flight to Tulsa?” I wondered. I wasn’t going to get home until close to midnight, and that didn’t make me happy. I thought maybe a bite to eat and a drink would help ease my aggravation, so I ate some thing and had a beer at a Mexican restaurant inside Nashville International.
That’s the first time I saw him. I knew I recognized him the first time I saw him walking through the airport terminal. He was heading to his gate, but I couldn’t quite pin exactly who it was as I sat about 30 feet away in the airport Chipotle-esque restaurant. About 30 minutes later, I’d made it to the gate to board the plane to Houston, not quite a two-and-a-half hour flight. There he was again, waiting in line to board the same flight. I still hadn’t figured out who the mysterious man was that was about to board my flight, and at that point I didn’t care much to find out because my main concern was frustration with the late hour I would get home.
United Airlines flight 3972 to Houston was scheduled to depart Nashville at 6:18 and was running on time, so we began boarding around 5:40. It was only a few minutes later that I realized I was seated next to the man I’d been wondering about for at least an hour. He had the window seat and mine was the aisle, and as he settled into his seat he opened a hardback copy of John Grisham’s “Rogue Lawyer” that looked like he’d only begun reading recently. I didn’t want to bother him, so I left him to his book while the crew prepared the plane for takeoff. Just before the plane began to taxi his phone rang, and on the screen I couldn’t help but notice as clear as day the name of the caller – Jim Crane.
He answered the phone and had a fairly brief 2-3 minute conversation about what I could immediately gather was the Astros spring training facility in Florida and some staffing matters for that facility. A perfectly innocuous, business related conversation to be sure, but it was at that instant I realized whom I would be seated next to for the next two-plus hours.
I didn’t want to come across like a giddy schoolgirl, so after he hung up the phone before the plane took off I asked “Sounds like you work in baseball, huh?” He replied very politely that he worked for the Astros and was in Nashville for the Winter Meetings. I explained that I was a Texas Rangers fan, and that I was in town visiting a client. I proceeded to ask if Mr. Ryan was still affiliated with the Astros organization, although I already knew the answer, and he replied “He sure is, that’s my dad.” I replied more than cordially, “Oh, so you’re Reid Ryan,” managing to snuff my excitement. We were barely in the air before he handed me his business card to confirm his identity.
He took a genuine interest in my work and asked how long I’d been a tax attorney, he asked about my background and made some other friendly conversation. I mentioned that my wife works in banking and he mentioned that his dad had been involved in banking for a number of years, and that Nolan was frequently in Oklahoma on cattle business. We talked for a while about divisional alignment in Major League Baseball, and he noted that he could foresee changes in the next few years specifically because the Rangers and Astros home markets are 2 time zones later than 60% of their division, which affects TV ratings.
I explained that my 12 year old son is involved in year-round competitive baseball. He asked what position he plays, and I told him that he’s a natural center fielder / left fielder with good plate discipline, great speed and an above average arm. And then Reid Ryan said this: “Forget about all that, teach him to pitch.”
He recalled the time he was driving to Arlington with a few of his minor league buddies to catch a Rangers game his dad was scheduled to pitch. He explained that it was a warm August night in 1993, and they arrived just in the nick of time to see Nolan hit Robin Ventura and subsequently witness the worst decision the young former Oklahoma State Cowboys third baseman ever made. I remember as a kid, watching on TV while Nolan Ryan had Robin Ventura in that headlock, punching the poor young man over and over and teaching him about baseball with each and every blow.
As we got closer and closer to Houston, we talked about the 2015 season from each of our own perspective. He described it as a great year, which wasn’t surprising coming from the President of the organization that was in first place of its division for most of the season. We finally talked about Dallas Keuchel, the Bishop Kelley (Tulsa) product whose family I’ve met, and that led to the culmination of our conversation: we finally got to talk about the last two Rangers / Astros series’.
He was the first to bring it up. He mentioned the game that Keuchel pitched in Arlington on September 16, and he described it as “that one game when Dallas got shelled.” It turns out, that was the game the Rangers had agreed to allocate 100 tickets to the Astros for Keuchel’s Korner, and that was the game Levi Weaver and I spearheaded a sabotage effort. By that time I felt like he and I had built the needed rapport to tell him, so I shared with him that I was the guy that bought 30 of those tickets and gave them to Rangers fans, and helped coordinate the purchase of at least 40 more by Levi and other Rangers fans.
Then Reid said, “Oh, you’re that guy.” Reid Ryan knew about our Keuchel’s Korner Takeover.
When the flight to Houston landed, I immediately called my dad and told him that he’d never guess who I sat next to on the flight to Houston. His first guess was “Jon Daniels?” I said that it wasn’t, but it was almost as interesting – arguably more so. When I was a kid, dad took me to my first Rangers game at old Arlington Stadium. We sat in the left field bleachers, and during batting practice I told him “There’s no way they could ever hit a ball all the way out here,” and to my surprise, by the end of batting practice several players had done just that. Nolan Ryan pitched that Sunday in the summer of 1991. The game went more than 4 hours across 15 innings, and the Rangers eventually beat the Yankees. I would always be a Nolan fan after that day, and meeting his son – the President of the division rival Houston Astros, no less – sitting next to him for more than 2 hours on an airplane, having the variety of conversations we did, that was a special experience. After dad and I got off the phone, I texted Levi about what had happened and I could almost hear his reaction through the text messages. The fact that Reid Ryan was aware of our Keuchel’s Korner Takeover made it all worth while.