In one hand Ryan holds a ball signed by Walter Johnson and, in the other, one signed by members, active and inactive, of the 3,000-strikeout club. "I'm missing Niekro and Bert Blyleven," he says. "When I get them, I'll have them all." Wendy has joined him at a trophy case that is as filled with artifacts from the athletic careers of his wife and children as from his own. "I don't put any emphasis on records," he says absently. "I expected the 19-strikeout one to be broken, and it was. They all probably will be. The year Carlton passed me in career strikeouts, I said I expected him to keep the record. He was pitching more often then than I was, and he said he thought he could keep going for another 10 years. I knew I couldn't."
"Why not, Daddy?" his daughter asks. "Why can't you pitch for another 10 years? Anyway, if you don't, I want you to be a coach."
Ryan rolls his eyes. "You see where her priorities are. The fact is, these young kids I play with now don't know what I've accomplished, what records I hold. I think records are important only to the holder. What is important to me is where I've come from and what I've been able to do. I'm home now and that is really important. I have another year on my contract, but I can see a time down the road when I'll be spending a lot more time on the ranch."
Martha Ryan lives five minutes from her younger son, in the Dezso Drive house. She is a small woman in her middle 70s, handsome like all the Ryans. She is watching a Dodgers-Mets game in her living room on this hot and humid Saturday afternoon in Alvin. "I've always been a baseball fan," she says. "Nolan's father was a great fan. I prefer to watch the games on TV now, though. It's getting too hard to get out to the Dome." Her eyes remain on the TV as she talks away.
"Nolan has lived in this town since he was six weeks old. You know, when children are growing up they never seem to like where they live. A small town like this, they'll say, is bo-rrrr-iiing. There's nothing to do, nothing exciting going on. But when they grow up they see it differently. Nolan wasn't like that. He liked it here. He never seemed to have any idle time at all. He was very, very active, and as the youngest of six children, he got an awful lot of attention. I'm proud of all our children, and happy that three of them have stayed here in Alvin, my two youngest daughters and Nolan."
She turns the volume down on the TV during a commercial and looks away from it. "I wasn't too happy when Nolan and his dad decided he should go away to play ball. I'd have been happier if he'd gone to college and played ball there. All my other children went through college and into graduate school. But if that was what Nolan wanted, that was fine with me then. As long as he's been happy, I've been happy, too." She smiles. "And you know, he's done very well, hasn't he?" She turns up the volume as the game resumes. "There's one important thing about what he's done, that's sure. Now, people from all over darn well know where Alvin, Texas, is."
Alvin, Texas? That's home. Always will be.