07/10/2004 1:37 AM ET
FanFest notes: Ryan talks shop
Hall of Famer shares thoughts in question-and-answer
HOUSTON -- What would happen if you matched baseball's all-time strikeout leader against the man in hot pursuit of the all-time home run record?
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
It would be the ultimate power vs. power matchup, and Nolan Ryan says he wouldn't intentionally walk Barry Bonds under any circumstances.
In a special question-and-answer session Friday morning with baseball lovers at the John Hancock All-Star FanFest, Ryan, the Hall of Famer and event spokesperson, laughed when a fan asked if he would give Bonds a free pass that has become so common in the late stages of the slugger's career.
"Not unless I just threw one that wasn't in the (strike) zone," Ryan said. "It's a shame we walk him as much as we do. If I'm watching him on TV, I want to see him hit, too."
Ryan reminded fans that he faced Bonds from 1986-88 when the former was still with Houston and when the latter was in the first three years of his career, with Pittsburgh.
"I knew him when he was a boy and I played with his dad," Ryan said. "I've seen him develop as a hitter since I faced him early in his career, and I would like to pitch to him now, just to see how he would make the necessary adjustments in an at-bat. Of course, he's such an improved hitter now."
Ryan's answers to fan questions were the kinds of precious mementos that couldn't be stuffed into a goody bag at FanFest. It's not often that average fans get to sit around and talk baseball with a legend, but such was the case on Friday as a horde of youths sat in front of the right-hander, while adults sat in the wings and asked questions into a microphone. Here were some of the other topics addressed by the resident of nearby Alvin, Texas:
When should a parent let a kid throw that first breaking ball?
"If you have the proper delivery, you should be OK, but very few kids at this age, in Little League, are really ready to do that because they have growth spurts. You see what happens so many times, they're wild. The coach goes out and tells [the kid] to throw it over the plate. Well, they don't have the coordination yet to just do that if you say it."
You were able to last 27 years in the Majors. What are your thoughts about players like Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson pitching so well at such a relatively advanced age?
"What we're seeing is, one, they have to be dedicated, and two, they have to have the body type. You can't stop the aging process, but you can slow it down considerably with the right training regimen and the latest technology available to athletes. They have a greater opportunity to pitch into their 40s than before, like Roger and Randy.
"I was blessed that the aging process didn't affect me like some others...but I had to do things to slow the aging process. I would ride the exercise bike immediately after every start, because it was important for me to flush the lactic acid out of my system. I would pitch every fifth day at that point, and if you drew a graph chart, I would be at 100 percent on that night that I pitched and then the line would start to go down, because your body is in a 'recovery' state in those next days. My only goal was to get that line back to 100 percent on that fifth day, and that's what I focused on."
How do you handle an umpire not giving you the (strike) calls?
"The one thing you ask of an umpire is to be consistent. When he starts making calls, you would expect that he'll keep that same strike zone the whole game, and that's fine. But I've always told young players: Don't let the failure of your last pitch affect your next pitch. Don't get demoralized; keep a positive attitude."
Ryan added that when he was pitching, "The NL was a low-strike league, the AL had a high strike zone. Over the years, the strike zone throughout baseball got smaller. It's affected the length of a game. If I was an umpire, I would widen the strike zone and tell people, 'If you're going to come up here, you'd better be ready to swing at pitches. It would make the games faster."
What did you focus on when you were pitching?
"When you're in a game, you don't look at the hitter. I tell people now that you should start by taking a tennis ball and throw it at the wall, all the time, just picking out a spot and trying to hit it. That's what I did as a kid. You just work on your deliver and hitting that spot. Then in the game, you immediately pick up on that spot, and the catcher just has to give you a good target."
Should a young pitcher ice his arm after pitching in a game?
"I never iced when I was younger, but then we learned that it's something you should do. I would suggest icing the elbow and back of shoulder for 20 minutes after you pitch. Put ice in baggies and do that, to keep the swelling and hemorrhaging in the joints down."
How do you feel about the DH?
"I have to say that I benefited from the DH late in my career [with Texas], because having the DH gave me more opportunities to stay in the games late, and at that time part of your earning potential was based on being able to complete games. But there have been two things I wanted baseball to do. One was to combine the umpires into one group instead of keeping them in two leagues, so there weren't personalities involved anymore and the strike zone would be more consistent. The second thing is to get rid of the DH."
You threw seven no-hitters. Looking back, what was the hardest thing about doing that?
"The last six outs are the toughest, because you don't usually have as good stuff as earlier in the game. And the hitters have seen your pitches by then. So it gets harder as the game goes along."
Baseball's rocket science
With the Johnson Space Center in town as NASA's home, it probably is not surprising that one of the first exhibits you see when you walk into the George R. Brown Convention Center is dedicated to Houston's other favorite sons. And signing autographs at the exhibit and giving a clinic to kids was Clayton Anderson, one of NASA's finest.
"I'm very honored to be here," Anderson said. "It doesn't have much to do with baseball, but I'm very happy to be part of the game. As we look at the kids and the smiles on their faces, I think that tells the story."
Anderson, a former college basketball referee, who now is assigned as the Flight Engineer for an upcoming International Space Station Long Duration Expedition in 2006, told youths at FanFest that building up an astronaut's forearms requires the same approach as it would a Major League hitter.
"Astronauts, when they do spacewalks, have to have strong forearms, too. So we do the same training that Jeff Bagwell and Barry Bonds do."
The fans speak
Scott Niemeier held his 6-year-old son, Micah, on his shoulders while waiting in line for a Mike Scott autograph on Friday at the John Hancock All-Star FanFest. "It's been a great day," said Niemeier, a resident of Baytown, Texas. "The highlight of the day for us was the Steal Home Challenge.
"There are so many things you can do together here."
Michael Biasini, wife Valerie and sons Drew (11) and Matthew (9) of nearby Round Rock said, "There's something for everybody in the whole family." They were wearing matching T-shirts that they had just purchased at FanFest, and Michael proudly showed a baseball signed earlier in the day by Terry Puhl, a former Astros player.. "I would go again," Biasini said. "Houston really puts on a good show."
Key events on Saturday's FanFest schedule will include the Century 21 Major League Baseball Mascot Home Run Derby, at 10 a.m. CT. Similar in format to the main Century Home Run Derby competition on Monday, this matches eight MLB team mascots with eight lucky children from a Houston area Boys and Girls Club. The child and mascot pair who wins the derby will win a Century 21 Dream Clubhouse. The event takes place on The Diamond area inside the FanFest.
Also scheduled are special appearances by MLB legends Gaylord Perry and J.R. Richard; NASA Q&A Sessions and Skills Clinic with astronauts Tracy Caldwell and/or Sunita Williams; and autograph sessions with MLB legends Luis Aparicio, Enos Cabell, Will Clark, Bob Feller, Willie Horton, Fred Lynn, Juan Marichal, Perry, Ozzie Smith, Earl Weaver and Jimmy Wynn.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.