For more than two decades, Alvin native Nolan Ryan ruled the diamond. His legacy should speak for itself by this point in history. However, the legacy he is paving for his life off the mound may have an even greater impact than the one he spent dominating batters. For the uninitiated, though, let’s take a quick look at Ryan’s storied career in Major League Baseball.
With a career of having played in the majors for a record 27 seasons, Nolan Ryan was bound to accumulate some impressive statistics. Let’s start with the fact that he was the final active player from the 1960s to retire from Major League Baseball. He is one of only a few dozen players to have played games in four different decades. Additionally, he became the first person to play for all four of the Major League’s original expansion teams – the New York Mets, the California Angels (now the Los Angeles Angels), and the Houston Colt .45s (now the Houston Astros). That kind of career longevity is rarely equaled in any sport.
“My ability to throw a baseball was a gift. It was a God-given gift. And I am truly appreciative of that gift,” Ryan said about his legacy on the mound. “I’ve got a different perception now and it’s really enjoyable to be at this point in your life and be able to watch this.”
Following his 1965 graduation from Alvin High School, Ryan was drafted by the then-hapless New York Mets. Playing for Jim Watson’s Alvin Yellow Jackets, Ryan was amassing records even then. For 44 years, he held the school’s single-game strikeout record with 21 in a seven-inning game (a record that was tied twice in one week in 2009). It was during the 1963 season that Mets scout Red Murff showed up for an Alvin High School game at Clear Creek High School in nearby League City. Coach Watson regaled Murff with stories of his young pitcher’s velocity, how some batters would refuse to face the high school pitcher and that Ryan’s pitches were so hard, he would sometimes break bones in catcher’s hands.
Murff wrote back stating that Ryan’s arm was the best he’d ever seen, leading to his being drafted. He would make his way for a brief stint with the Mets in 1966 before permanently making the squad in 1968. From that moment, throughout his playing days with the Mets, the California Angels, the Houston Astros, and until his retirement with the Texas Rangers in 1993, Nolan Ryan not only witnessed a number of historic moments but crafted a few of his own.
Nicknamed “The Ryan Express”, Ryan is widely considered to be one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Regularly clocked at over 100 miles per hour, his velocity would earn him eight trips to the All Star Game and a trip to Cooperstown, New York, for his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999. Along with that, Ryan racked up 5,714 career strikeouts, a lifetime batting average against him of .204, heartily controls his all-time lead of no-hitters with seven, and is only one of three players to have his number retired by at least three teams (the Angels, Astros, Rangers) – joining Frank Robinson and Jackie Robinson (whose number was retired by the entirety of Major League Baseball).
Along with those records, he appeared in and helped the New York Mets win the 1969 World Series (his only appearance in the Fall Classic); was a runner-up multiple times for the Cy Young award, managed to become the first pitcher to throw an immaculate inning (three consecutive batters struck out with only three pitches to each in the inning) in both leagues; led the league in strikeouts more times than many would care to count; was the first million-dollar player in 1979 when he signed with the Astros. When he doffed his cap for the last time, at the age of 46, Ryan had topped the 300-win mark with 324 and amassed his major league-record 5,714th strikeout.
Born in Refugio, just outside Victoria, his family moved near Houston to Alvin when Nolan was only six weeks old. Noticing that his son enjoyed throwing at targets, his father encouraged him to play baseball. He joined Alvin Little League Baseball when he was nine. A few years later, having made the all-star team twice, he pitched the first no-hitter of his life. He jettisoned football in ninth grade and began to focus his vision on baseball only.
Following his retirement from the mound, Ryan continued to be involved with baseball operations as well as several off-the-field activities, much of it originating near Alvin. In addition to his baseball legacy, he’s a rancher, an entrepreneur, and a family man. He’s the principal owner of the ownership group for the Round Rock Express, the AAA-affiliate of the Texas Rangers (the 2023 World Series Champions); he served as the Texas Rangers president and CEO from 2008-2013; a special assistant for the Houston Astros from 2014-2019 (the 2017 World Series and 2019 American League pennant winners), served on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission; has co-written six books; has schools and highways named after him; started Nolan Ryan Beef following his life-long experience working cattle, and has also been inducted into the Texas Trail of Fame (2009) and the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame (2010). However, one of the largest legacies that Nolan Ryan hopes to leave for others is through his foundation, now the not-for-profit arm of the Express.
“We’ve helped kids get scholarships who otherwise couldn’t afford college,” said Ryan about the foundation’s impact. “Partnering with the (Round Rock) Express gives us some unique opportunities in Central Texas, and it makes sense because I live here and can spend more time on it.”
The Nolan Ryan Foundation is not a new and emerging organization. Formed in Alvin in 1990, the foundation’s focus is providing resources for youth education and community development. A small group of local business leaders came together that year in Alvin to form the foundation, along with Nolan, and his wife, Ruth. The first project for the foundation was the construction of the $1.2 million Nolan Ryan Center, completed and donated to Alvin Community College in 1996. The facility is used for not only classes but special events and as a community center. For two decades, the foundation leased space within the building for their Nolan Ryan Exhibit Center. While the facility moved its contents to Waco’s Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2016; the Alvin Historical Museum opened their own Nolan Ryan exhibit in 2021 to take its place. The facility continues to be used by the community college and Ryan’s impact in his hometown of Alvin is still felt and can be seen throughout town to this day.
“I always thought that there was going to be life after baseball, and so I designed that in my life I would have other interests after baseball that I would be able to step into,” Ryan said about life off the mound. “I didn’t realize the grip that baseball had on me and my family. I can honestly say it took two full years for me to get over the fact that I was no longer a baseball player.”
In 2016, the foundation relocated to Round Rock, not too far from Ryan’s home in Georgetown. Over the past decade alone, they have provided $4.2 million in scholarships, donations, and community grants; a quarter of a million of that came in 2022. Staff at the foundation are tireless, working year-round to raise funds for their community grants and scholarship program. The latter efforts awards scholarships to graduating Round Rock ISD students – renewable for up to four years. In addition to that, the foundation has memorialized Hall of Fame Negro League baseball player, Willie Wells who played for the Austin Black Senators. With the Willie Wells Memorial Scholarship, established in 2021 and awarded every spring, one Huston-Tillotson University student in Austin will be awarded the scholarship.
“Year in and year out, the impact of the Nolan Ryan Foundation can be seen in our own backyard,” commented Mary Conley, the foundation’s executive director. “With eight student recipients receiving renewable scholarships, we can create a relationship that is closer to them.”
Those funds come from multiple events and opportunities for fans as well. The foundation hosts an annual dinner and a shotgun-style golf tournament that includes a variety of sports legends, and a live and silent auction. If that’s not your speed, head out to Dell Diamond for a Round Rock Express game. There, they host a 50/50 Raffle where half of the net proceeds go to a lucky fan while the rest goes back to the foundation. At the end of the season, the foundation donates all these proceeds to several Central Texas nonprofit organizations. And, if you can’t make it to Dell Diamond for a game, check out the foundation’s website and purchase one of the many unique Nolan Ryan items, which includes a number of autographed items and personalized opportunities.
“Nolan and his entire family have been such an integral part of the city for so many years, and have literally helped shape the community,” said Mayor Alan McGraw when the Foundation moved to Round Rock. “We are very thankful for their many contributions to our quality of life, and look forward to their continued involvement.”
Nolan Ryan’s legacy on the field has spoken for itself for the past six-plus decades. His records will be spoken about just like those of Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Satchel Paige, and Ted Williams for generations to come. His legacy left to the communities and people he supports will be felt just as long. Nolan Ryan not only improved the game of baseball with his skills and prowess, but he has improved the communities as well because of his interest in his fellow Texans and making sure he leaves the state a better place.