Did it matter that guys far younger than Ryan had appeared the day before on the same Oakland Coliseum field in an old-timers' game? Did it matter that at least nine present or former teammates had named children after him? Did it matter that he was pitching in his fourth decade in the major leagues and that he was the first pitcher to throw no-hitters in three decades? It mattered that the baseball traveled faster than a good rumor. Eyes and mind and hands did not have time to coordinate a simple swing of a bat. There was no chance.
"He was throwing absolute gas to spots," Texas Rangers manager Bobby Valentine reported after watching the no-hitter. "He was mixing that with a changeup. Who could hit him?"
Absolute gas. Forty-three years old.
Two days later he would fly to Los Angeles to have an examination for lower back pains. Lower back pains! ("What do you do for your back, Nolan?" you would ask at the reunion. "You know, I have the same thing.") During the no-hitter, Ryan's 14-year-old son, Reese, rubbed his back in the dugout between innings. Rubbed his back in the dugout! He celebrated his big night by ordering a pizza and eating it in his hotel room with his wife, son and daughter. Pizza!
"Only thing that was open," he said.
There have been and will be bigger and more dramatic stories during the 1990 sports year—championships won and lost, other records established—but for a large part of America there will not be any better story. For one day, the Fountain of Youth was found in the morning newspaper and on the evening news. A man who remembers exactly where he was on the day John F. Kennedy was shot was able to show these kids what exactly was what. He not only was better, he was also untouchable. He still had his fastball.
"You know what Nolan said?" you would mention on the way home. "Not only does he still play baseball, he said he pitched a no-hitter just the other night against the Oakland A's."
The radio would be tuned to an oldies station. The night would be clear. It would be fine, just fine, to sing along with the music.