Ryan's close bond with family forged by togetherness
From trips during playing days to relationships today, Nolan committed to fatherhood
Nolan Ryan still speaks to his three children virtually every single day. This ritual, this simplest of gestures, sums up his views on fatherhood. His kids are adults now, all of them married with children of their own. Yet they remain close to their father, a Hall of Fame pitcher with 324 victories and 5,714 strikeouts.
As oldest son Reid, the new president of business operations of the Astros, said, "He's my father, my business partner and my friend. It's pretty special."
If there's a secret to building a close family -- and Nolan and Ruth Ryan and their three children are extremely close -- this may be it.
"We always included our kids in everything," Nolan Ryan said. "We did everything as a family. [Ruth and I] didn't go off on vacations by ourselves. When school was out, we loaded the kids and took 'em on the road with us. The boys went to the ballpark with me, and I'd throw [batting practice] to them and do those kinds of things."
He's especially proud of his sixth no-hitter -- in 1990 on the road against the A's -- because younger son Reese was the Rangers' bat boy that day, and Ruth and daughter Wendy were sitting near the dugout. Reid had begun college, or he would have been there, too.
"We made a conscious effort to do that, because as a family we wanted to be together," Nolan Ryan said. "I wanted my family around me. Family was a priority. Before the kids were old enough to travel, I called home five or six times a day. I just wanted to know what was going on with everyone.
"Once they were old enough to travel, we tried to take the negative of a road trip and turn it into a positive. We took them everywhere. I think it helped them, too. They learned to travel. They learned to deal with people. They learned to eat in nice restaurants and behave. That kind of stuff. They learned about the United States.
"They've been just about everywhere. If we had a night off, we'd take 'em to a Broadway show if there was one we could take 'em to. In San Francisco, we'd take the trolley and go down to Fisherman's Wharf and do some of those touristy things."
He wanted to be part of their lives and be there for them and watch them grow. He wanted to know them and them to know him. Sounds simple, doesn't it? Problem is, there are no shortcuts to doing things this way. His 27 years in the Major Leagues meant hundreds of days away from home. So very early in their lives as parents, Nolan and Ruth Ryan decided that baseball would not pull their family apart.
Somewhere along the way, an unbreakable bond developed. As the kids have gotten older, those early lessons from Nolan and Ruth Ryan still ring loudly.
"I think just being there is a big part of it," Reid Ryan said. "He was there for us. He lived a life where he never saw my baseball teams. He very rarely coached my baseball teams. But he always made it a point in the winter to coach our basketball team. He would take us hunting or fishing when our seasons were over. I value those times. We did things like the day after he pitched going with him in the morning to the weight room. Going out to look at cattle. Riding around. He included us. He made us feel important. You can't screw it up if you're just there.
"It's what I appreciate about my mom and dad. They always made it a point to include us. We went everywhere on the road during the summer. I got to have the greatest childhood ever because I spent a lot of summers traveling to all the big league cities. Taking batting practice. Playing catch. We'd show up early at Wrigley or Fenway or wherever. We'd come out at noon and he'd let us hit and do really cool stuff."
Nolan Ryan poured himself into fatherhood each offseason when the family returned to Alvin, Texas. As with the baseball season, Nolan included his kids in everything.
"It was a Mayberry-type environment," Reid remembered. "I felt like I got to have the greatest dad and live the greatest childhood ever."
Nolan Ryan believes his ideas about fatherhood came from growing up in a close family.
"You don't realize the influence your parents had on you until later in life," he said. "I think my mother and dad's commitment to the family was instilled in me. Same thing with Ruth. We were raised to understand the family unit was important, and it has remained that way. We don't take vacations. Vacations are going to the ranch or doing family things."
Reid added: "I've seen a hole in my dad's life by losing his father at such an early age. He was with the Mets when he lost his dad. He told me once or twice that feeling has never gone away of not having his dad there. And that throughout his life, he wished that he would have an opportunity when he had big decisions to have somebody to talk to. And so, it's made me feel very blessed."
When Reid Ryan accepted the job with the Astros, one of his toughest decisions was moving his wife and three children from their home near Austin. They'd established roots in the community, but beyond that both his brother, Reese, and parents had homes nearby. Still, the family is too close to be drawn apart by a few hundred miles.
Among their family traditions is to gather at Nolan and Ruth's ranch house in South Texas for Thanksgiving. Mostly, though, they make sure to remain involved. Nolan said the thing that impresses him about his kids is watching the kind of adults they've become.
"When you see what they've done and what their values are, that's meaningful," Nolan said. "When you're a young father with young kids, you feel very blessed that you have the kids you have. But you're still trying to establish yourself and trying to handle the responsibility of being a father and all those things. Then later, as your kids find their place in life and they have their children, it's a whole different perspective."
He calls Reid "one of the most committed dads I've ever been around. He coaches them. He takes them everywhere. He really enjoys it as much as the kids do, coaching 'em and being there. He has a real passion for it."
In the end, Nolan Ryan says it's not all that complicated. He loved his kids and wanted to make sure they know of his love for them. If something was important to them, then it was important to Nolan and Ruth as well.
"When you see them having the values you tried to instill in them, and then you see them passing those same values on to their children, it can get emotional," Nolan said. "The time we have with them now, it's so precious."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.