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Ryan Leads Off for Rangers in ALCS (Sort Of)

Nolan Ryan throws ceremonial first pitch to start off series

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Nolan Ryan of the Texas Rangers throws out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 1 of the ALCS at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

    The Texas Rangers opened the AL championship series with their ace on the mound -- Nolan Ryan.

    And he came out firing.

    Now the team's president and part-owner, Ryan had the honor of throwing out the first pitch for the Rangers' first-ever ALCS game, against the New York Yankees on Friday night. The all-time king of strikeouts and no-hitters wasn't about to give it a ceremonial soft toss.

    Wearing a red golf shirt and khakis, he gave that familiar leg kick and fired up the ol' Ryan Express. His heater was low and would've been inside for a left-handed batter. As for the speed, let's just say it would've been nice to have had a radar-gun reading.

    Ryan came away smiling and laughing, perhaps feeling a surge from being back on the mound in front of a sold-out crowd for a game with these high stakes. The crowd had greeted him with the loudest ovation of the night, and this was after every member of the club had been introduced, including current ace Cliff Lee.

    Ryan, however, is still the No. 1 pitcher in franchise history, the guy's whose arrival in 1989 brought relevancy to a faceless franchise, whose arrival as team president in February 2008 began the recovery that led to this point and whose business card recently added the title of part-owner.

    Just a few months after he won a financial wrestling match for the club, Ryan got to watch them win a playoff series for the first time. Perhaps it's more accurate to say he had to watch because after pitching in the big leagues for 27 seasons it was agonizing being in the stands.

    "It's horrible," he said, laughing. "The two toughest things I found in sports is to watch your children perform and be involved with a team of this nature and not have any control over what's going on, that you're strictly a spectator."

    The first-round finale was especially excruciating. Texas won the first two games, then lost the next two. Although Lee dominated Game 5 and the Rangers never trailed, Ryan said he couldn't relax until there was one out in the ninth. He was seen with tears in his eyes once the celebrating began.

    "That game felt like it lasted seven or eight hours to me," he said.

    Ryan won a World Series as a young player on the 1969 Mets, but never got back there in a career that lasted until 1993. He was part of teams that got bounced in 1979 (Angels) and 1980, '81 and '86 (Astros).

    He's built the Rangers into AL West champs by emphasizing pitching, of course. He wants starters going deep and throwing lots of strikes. Lots of organizations have leaders who say that, but none have a guy who can say it with the same credibility.

    "I'd like to think that we built an attitude about pitching that wasn't here -- that you can pitch in this ballpark and you can be successful in this ballpark pitching here and you can keep the ball in the yard," he said.

    Asked about the postseason prognosis, Ryan was in a tough position. He knows they've already accomplished so much getting this far, but he wasn't about to make any bold predictions.

    "The players truly believe that they are good players and that they can win and there's not a reason they can't win," he said. "Every time you think that the backs were against the wall and it looked like the wheels were going to come off of it, they did it themselves. They found it within themselves to come back and turn things around and I'm really proud of that, and the maturity that I've seen develop in this ballclub."

    Ryan has dabbled in ranching and banking in his post-playing career. So, how did those endeavors compare to baseball?

    "Well," he drawled, "cattle don't talk back to you and they pretty much do what you asked of them."