In one of my earliest baseball memories, a 46-year-old Nolan Ryan kicked 26-year-old Robin Ventura’s ass.
I was 10-years-old at the time, so the brutality of a rare baseball brawl where guys are actually landing punches stuck with me. But the underdog story of some young hothead (Ventura) charging the mound to fight an old guy (Ryan) who promptly puts him in a headlock and starts beating his face in are what made the scene one of the most memorable in baseball history.
I was a Nolan Ryan fan from that day forward. And only later did I learn that he was a notorious “head-hunter,” the term for a pitcher who loves to throw inside and, occasionally, at a hitter’s head to keep him guessing.
Nolan was an intimidating force on the mound due to his 100 mph fastball that might end up in your ear, an aspect of his legend that is sure to play a starring role in the upcoming documentary, Facing Nolan.
It’s available in theaters on a limited release on May 24th, and I will be scouring the earth for a theater so I can reminisce about The Ryan Express, even if I have to go by myself like the Nolan fanboy that I am.
The time is right for a Nolan Ryan reminder. In today’s game, benches are clearing for the “innocent” brushback pitches that old school ballplayers expected as part of the game in Nolan’s era.
People worship 44-year-old Tom Brady’s longevity in the NFL, but forget that in 1991, a 44-year-old Nolan Ryan led the American League in lowest WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched), fewest hits per 9 innings, and most strikeouts per 9 innings, and then pitched for two more seasons after that.
And did I mention that he got Robin Ventura in a headlock on the mound and started punching his head?
Director Bradley Jackson said it best in an interview with The Texas Film Commission:
“It doesn’t get any more Texan or more epic than Nolan Ryan.”
To help tell his epic story, the trailer teases interviews with an amazing cast of characters including Ruth Ryan (Nolan’s wife), George Brett, Randy Johnson, President George W. Bush, and the always interesting Pete Rose.
It will surely delve into Nolan’s gaudy statistics and insurmountable positions in the record books (most strikeouts, no-hitters, walks, and wild-pitches in baseball history, for example). And there’s sure to be a fair share of footage showing fastballs aimed at hitter’s heads, and fists aimed at Robin Ventura’s.
But critics say that the film peels back the fierce, competitive façade of Nolan’s legendary ballplayer persona to show the family man, cattle rancher, and just plain good guy behind the fastballs under your chin. It’s a fascinating take that promises to add some extra depth to a film I was ready to see simply because it had “Nolan” in the title.
So, I’ll see you in whatever limited theater I can find on May 24th. It’s a Tuesday, but I think I can manage in service to the Hall of Famer, cowboy, living Tall Tale, and epic Texan I grew up idolizing.