Excerpt from Growing Up Baseball : An Oral History
BOB FELLER: I was born on November 3, 1918. I grew
up on a farm just west of Des Moines, Iowa in a small town named Van
Meter. My given name is Robert William Andrew Feller
My sister Marguerite came along when I was 10. I
had a great childhood. My father William and my mother Lena Feller
gave me time.
My father's dad died when my dad was 9 years old.
His mother never re-married. He had four sisters and a sick brother
who died at the age of nine. All of that shaped him and his work ethic
and how he treated people.
I did not grown up poor during the Depression, the
Dust storm era. We always ate, we never missed a meal. My parents had
a self sustaining farm of over 700 acres and worked day and night
taking care of it. They never took a vacation in 40 years.
My earliest baseball memory was the rubber ball
that I'd throw through the door into the living room of our house. My
dad would be sitting on the couch in the living room, and would stop
the ball with a pillow. I was much too young to even catch the ball so
he would roll the ball back to me. When I threw the ball to him, I'd
go into a big windup. Sometimes I'd miss the door and hit the wall and
knock some of the plaster off or jar the lamp that was attached to the
wall. All of that did not make my grandmother too happy or my mother
for that matter. But it didn't bother my father too much.
From the age of 5, I started throwing in the barn
all winter long. I threw in the pig lot or tossed a ball off the
outhouse. I threw in the winter with snow piled high and then dried
the balls off in the oven. I brought lights out to the barn and threw
in the evening. I played catch in the yard and in the barn in the
wintertime. I played ball in the barn all winter. We had a basket
there and I would shoot baskets.
We stored the hay and the native lumber up there
and some of the grain. Underneath we had the horses and some of the
livestock and the straw to bed them down. We milked the cows there in
We used the horses in the field - we had a pair of
running horses that we put on a buggy with a sleigh. We always had
Belgians and Clydesdales. I curried them and cleaned the barns out
As time went on my dad pitched batting practice to
me and hit grounders. Saturday nights we'd go over and take the butter
and eggs in and do some shopping and listen to the band and get home
early so we could play a ball game on Sunday.
We would go out and play between the out house and
the house and there would be snow piled up everywhere except where we
shoveled to get a flat surface. We always had about a dozen balls
around and if they got wet in the snow we would put them I the wood
stove and dry them out. From being batted around the stitches on the
balls would break. We would tear off the entire cover and stitch them
together with harness thread and curved needles, draw the thread
through a big ball of bee's wax. We'd sew them up and use them again.
I would do that evening after evening after evening with my father in
front of the old pot bellied stove.
I have been told that my story of growing up into
baseball is very dramatic. But I really don't think of it that way. I
had a mother who was very intelligent and responsible. Both parents
were on the school board. My mother was an R.N. My parents let me know
where the stakes were set. I never had to ask what to do next. I knew
when to clear out the barn, when to play ball, curry the horses. All
of that helped me to learn a sense of proportion, build a work ethic,
develop stamina, complete my games.
When I was twelve, we built a complete baseball
field on our farm. We had a complete diamond with an outfield fence
and scoreboard. We fenced the pasture, put up the chicken wire and the
benches and even a little grandstand behind first base. We called it
Oakview because it was up a hill overlooking the Raccoon River and a
beautiful view of a grove of oak trees. We formed our own team and
played other teams from around the community on weekends.
We really did have the first Field of Dreams over
there on our farm in Iowa. Our Oakview team started playing 57 years
before they had the "Field of Dreams" up there in
Dyersville. We loaned the uniforms from the school. We were there four
years before I started playing for the Farmer's Union team in Des
Moines that won the Iowa State Championship.
My heroes growing up were Rogers Hornsby, Walter
Johnson and Babe Ruth. My first glove was a Rogers Hornsby, the old
three-fingered kind. Hornsby was my idol because we could get the
Cubs' game on our radio on the farm in Iowa. I even took up second
base as my first position because that was where Hornsby played.
All my heroes meant a great deal to me. I followed
them very closely and read everything I could in the Des Moines paper,
"The Register," the Pink Sheet. My dad bought me all the
baseball books and also "The Sporting News"
I guess the farm chore made me strong. My father
made a home plate in the yard, and I'd throw to him over it. My dad
caught me all the time. He even built me a pitching rubber. At Van
Meter High School l I pitched five no-hitters.
I had a live fast ball. I could throw hard. As a
kid I was throwing curve balls when I was 8 years old. I had a great
curve in high school. I taught myself how to throw it and got better
with it through practice.
My windup was geared to get as much speed out of
may arm and as much fear out of the batter as possible. I pivoted
away, turned my back on the batter and then let it go.
When I was 16, in 1934, I saw the World Series in
St. Louis. There were 4 games in Detroit - I saw the three played in
St Louis. I saw Dizzy and Paul pitch and School Boy Rowe and Tommy
Bridges. Frankie Frisch was the manger of the Cardinals. That was the
first time I saw major league baseball. But I saw many major league
exhibition games in Des Moines. There was a Cub farm team there - the
Des Moines Demons. But the Kansas City Monarchs would play a lot in
Des Moines, too. I saw Satchel Paige, and I pitched against him when I
was 16 years old. He could throw hard, had great control, had the
great motion - he would have been one of the top ten pitchers in
history if he had played in the big leagues in his prime. Later when I
was on Cleveland he played for us in 1948 when he was 42. He was a
great friend of mine - he died at the age of 75. He had a lot of
The scout who signed me was Cleveland scout Cy
Slapnicka, the same scout who signed Mel Harder, Herb Score and Lou
Boudreau. He came to Des Moines to sign Claude Passeau for the
Cleveland Indians from the Des Moines Demons. He came to see me pitch
in an early morning game. I was playing in a tournament - he got to
the ball park and he never left. Slapnicka never saw Passaeu. Passaeau
went to Pittsburgh; Feller went to Cleveland.
I signed for a dollar bill and an autographed ball,
the ball was signed by the 1935 Cleveland Indians. It wasn't even a
new baseball. I was very confident that I'd make good and opportunity
was more important than security. The contract was written on the back
of a piece of hotel stationery. The Indians gave me about $175 a
month. But my father had a cancer starting in 1936 and we had big
bills at the Mayo Clinic for the radium and x-ray and the Indians took
care of -$10,000 that winter. Mayo was about 220 miles from Van Meter.
I would drive him up.
I was 16 years old. I was the youngest pitcher to
ever win a major league game, also the youngest to ever lose one but
not the youngest to ever appear in a game -- in 1944 before Carl
Scheib was 16 he pitched one inning for the Connie Mack Athletics and
Joe Nuxhall at the age of 15 pitched for Cincinnati.
This was 1936 - - I started playing semi-pro ball
for a team called Rosenblooms at 321 Euclid Avenue, a clothing store.
I played for six games there. Then I was asked to pitch in an
exhibition game for the Indians when the Cardinals came to town on
July 6, 1936. I pitched the fourth, fifth and sixth innings against
the Gashouse Gang managed by Frankie Frisch. Durocher was my first
hitter -- I struck out 8 out of 9 and instead of going to Fargo to
start my career they put me on a train to join the Cleveland Indians
in Philadelphia. I met Connie Mack there and he became a great friend
of mine, I loved him.
I was taken care of very nicely by the Indians -
Steve O'Neil, the manager, he was like a father to me. Wally Shank,
the coach, who had been a catcher with several teams was a wonderful
man and helped me a great deal. He was kind of my buffer and advisor.
Just as Edison said: "Find out what you like
to do and you'll never have to work again." I was about nine
years old when I started to of being nothing but a major league ball
player. IU wasn't a cocky kid, I was very quiet. I just worked at it
with my father helping me all the time.
I have been asked what was your greatest moment in
baseball. Well, I enjoyed playing catch with my dad. Those were the
better days than the days of pitching three no-hitters, 12 one-hitters
or striking out 18 men. Those are more important to me.
I did graduate from high school. I took two weeks
off in 1937 and had a tutor in spring training in New Orleans where we
trained and went to school every day in my room at the Hotel
Roosevelt. I went back home, graduated, got my diploma and re-joined
At the start I was with the Indians between my
junior and senior year. I came back to Van Meter and had a homecoming.
I went back to school that winter but could not participate in
basketball because I was a professional.
RALPH KINER: I was born October 27, 1922 in Santa
Rita, New Mexico My father died of a mastoid infection when I was 4
years old, and my mother moved to Alhambra, California where she had
friends. I was an only child.
Alhambra was a small town just outside of LA. The
neighbors across the street were involved in baseball. They had a son
Robert Bodkin who was about 10 years older than me. His father was
involved in semipro ball across the area. They had a Sunday morning
team, all men. And I used to be the batboy and hang out with them.
Robert's father used to pitch batting practice to
him, and I was the kid just hanging around, shagging balls. This went
on for a couple of years. I guess, I was maybe eight or nine years
old. Eventually, I got tired of shagging balls and said, "How
about giving me a chance to hit?"
I was around 10 or 11 by this time. So they let me
hit, and of course I enjoyed that more than shagging balls.
Eventually, I was playing on the men's team at the age of 12. I was
skinny and fairly tall about 5-10 or something like that. And I always
hit the ball well, and through that, I sort of grew up around them
playing baseball on Sundays. And of course, pickup baseball with kids
in the area. We'd choose up sides and play after school every day.
We played a lot of softball, which was a big thing
at that time in the LA area. In grammar school, we had softball and
some hardball, but not much. I was always one of the guys who was
shagging balls, hitting balls, doing all of those things. And then
when baseball season was over, I'd play football in the sandlot,
pickup football, and basketball, and track and tennis.
I was raised in the Depression, so there wasn't any
money around at all. My mother bought me a glove for Christmas or
whatever, so I had a glove and we had the bat and taped up the
baseballs. I was very adept at taking balls that were ripped up and
sewing them up and making them like regular baseballs.
Then I got on different teams. Semipro teams in the
area, I was 12 or 13 or 14. Another boy that was a pal of mine that I
roamed around with, his father had been a minor league baseball
pitcher. The father and the son were both named Harry Jonston, only
they called the son "Lefty" because he was a left-handed
pitcher. The father used to haul me and the son around to games.
My first real interest in major league baseball was
around 1933 when the Giants played in the World Series against
Washington. My favorite team was the 1934 Detroit Tigers. And they
played in the World Series that year against the St. Louis Cardinals.
I was in the 7th grade at that time, and I could look out the window
of my classroom, and this Mrs. Bodkin, the wife of the man who really
got me started in baseball, her house was only an eighth of a mile
from the school. And she'd come out and signal with her fingers the
score of the game. We had a system worked out where I could get the
score of that 1934 World Series. My idol back then was Hank Greenberg
And why I picked the Tigers, I have no idea. Maybe because of Hank and
his fame as a great hitter. He was just starting to become one of the
great hitters of the game.
Major League Baseball was broadcast into the area
by a guy named Sam Balter. And it was recreated games of Major League
Baseball, over the tickertape every Saturday out of a network out of
Texas. But actual Major League ball wasn't on the West Coast except
during spring training games.
Mr. Jonston used to take us to watch major leaguers
in spring training. At one time the Philadelphia Athletics trained in
Anaheim. I also saw the White Sox who trained in Pasadena, which is a
contiguous town to Alhambra. I also went to Pacific Coast League minor
I was totally involved in sports even though at
that time, baseball wasn't considered a great way to make a living. My
mother was never really happy with the fact that I was always playing
some kind of sport. She never remarried, so she had to work to survive
and to raise me. She worked in downtown LA, for the Title Insurance
Company, a big company. She was an office nurse and took care of the
people that worked there.
I had to do all the things to make money that all
kids had to do then. I had to mow lawns, and I had an "LA
Times" paper route that I got up for at 3 in the morning. I
delivered papers and then went to school. I had about 40 customers,
and I got $14 a month, which at that time, was a pretty good amount of
spending money. I had to give some to my mother, and the rest I could
keep, but whatever it was, it wasn't much.
I also sold magazines around the area,
door-to-door, which I hated. I made a penny a magazine, and I had 20
to sell, and I had to go and knock on doors and ask them if they
wanted to buy "Colliers" or "Saturday Evening
Post" or "Ladies Home Journal" or whatever I was trying
to get rid of. I hated to do that because it took away from the time I
could play sports. And so I got real smart one time. The magazines
sold out for a nickel, and I paid four cents to the guy that was in
charge of the route. Rather than pay out 80 cents a week and knock on
those doors, I took the magazines and buried them in the backyard,
went out and mowed a couple of lawns and gave him the money that he
was due for the 20 magazines that I had to sell. That worked out fine
until my mother one time discovered that I was burying the magazines
in the backyard. She got very unhappy about that and wound up sending
me to a military school in Long Beach, California. I was there for a
short period of time, six months, I think. I hated that, because it
was taking me from all of the kids that I grew up with and knew.
There were also several major league clubs that
sponsored teams around the area. I played for a team sponsored by the
Yankees - the Yankee Juniors, they called them. We got old uniforms
that had been passed through the organization, and they supplied the
bats and balls. I played for the Yankee Juniors all through my high
school days on Saturday afternoons.
On Sundays, I played on teams like the Alhambra
Merchants, that were sponsored by merchants in town. I also played
American Legion ball. It was the only organized thing around at that
time. There was no Little League or anything like that. And when we
didn't have a regularly scheduled game to play in the afternoon, after
school days, we'd just go out to a vacant lot and play baseball and
choose up sides and play sometimes with five guys on a team, six guys
on a team. And if you didn't have nine guys on a team, you couldn't
hit to the field where there was no player.
I played on the varsity team at Alhambra High
School my sophomore, junior and senior years. Mainly I played
shortstop, second base, third base. I also pitched some. I would say
over the period of a year, I played somewhere around 250-some baseball
games. Of course the weather was conducive to playing all year round
in southern California.
A fellow named Dan Krowley ran the Yankee Junior
team which was really run by the Yankees and their famous scout, Bill
Essick who was the guy who signed up DiMaggio from San Francisco. Of
course, when he was around, which was not often, it was a big thing,
because I'd say, well I hope I have a good day, because maybe the
Yankees will try and sign me. When guys in that time were going to D
ball out of high school and making $65 a month, which sounds like
nothing, which it was, but at that time, during the Depression, if
you've got a job, you had something better than anybody else. The
other scouts that were around were Hollis Thurston, who had been a
major league pitcher. He scouted for the Pittsburgh Pirates. And there
was Babe Herman, who was a great hitter and scout for the Hollywood
Stars, a team that was independently-owned and run by the Hollywood
ball club of the Pacific Coast Club.
One of the offers I got was from Babe Herman. He
offered to give me 50 percent of whatever my sale price to the major
leagues would be if I would sign with the Hollywood Stars. An
interesting sidelight to all of that is the only time I ever met Babe
Ruth was when Babe Herman took me down to meet him when they were
filming the moving picture "Pride of the Yankees." That's
the only time I ever met Babe Ruth, through Babe Herman, who doubled
for Gary Cooper in the movie in the hitting scenes.
There were scouts in the stands wherever we played
in a lot of places. One of the scouts that watched me and actually
helped me a little bit was Casey Stengel, who then was manager with
the Boston Braves. He helped me with outfield play and was very
interested. I got to know him well.
We played in ballparks like Griffith Park
Playground and a big park in LA, where they had baseball games going
on all around in that area. We played all over LA. People were
becoming more and interested in me because I was a good player and
getting better the more I played.
My mother still thought I was doing the wrong
thing. She wanted me to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or something like
In 1939, 1940, my senior year of high school I had
to either get a job, go to college or go play ball. I had several
offers from different clubs to sign up for a small amount of money.
Then in 1941, I graduated from high school and things came to a
It was now a matter of whether I was going to sign
and play minor league ball or go to college. The Yankee offered me a
chance to play minor league ball or a scholarship to USC. At that
time, Hollis Thurston came to me and wanted to sign me for the
Pirates. He was a world-renowned baseball scout. His nickname was
"sloppy, but he was a meticulously-dressed person, well-dressed,
well-educated, intelligent guy.
And so now it really came down to whether I would
go to college or sign up. My mother wanted me to go to college. She
didn't want any part of anything about signing and going on to play
At that time, baseball players didn't have any
great reputation, certainly they didn't make a whole lot of money. And
it was a matter of me going to college or not, and it was her choice.
I had no choice in the matter. And Hollis Thurston came to our house.
I didn't know a thing about anything at that time. And Harry Jonston,
the father of the son who was also named And Harry Johnston was the
one who more or less negotiated my deal. I asked him what he thought I
should do. He was an executive with a milk company out there. He was a
surrogate father to me, he and Mr. Bodkin, the father of the other son
who went to Loyola College to play baseball.
It finally came down where Pittsburgh offered me
$3,000 in cash to sign, and a contract in A Ball. And his argument was
if I signed with the Yankees, I'd be buried in their farm system for a
period of seven years, which was about what it took most ballplayers
to get through the minor leagues to the majors at that time. The
Yankees were an outstanding team at that time. And he prevailed, and I
ended up signing up with Pittsburgh. He also promised me but it was
not in writing, and technically it was illegal that if I made the
major leagues, I would get another $5,000 to sign. Well at that time,
that kind of money was unheard of. Nobody had ever gotten a bonus that
was that good. And the money, I guess, swayed my mother, the $3,000 of
cash in my hand. And she agreed to OK the contract.
The other part was I was to go to spring training
with the Pirates in 1941. I graduated in June of 1940. I went to
Pasadena Junior College in the winter of that year, which satisfied my
mother, she wanted me to get a college education. They had a pretty
good athlete on their team, just prior to my signing. His name was
Jackie Robinson. And I played softball against Jackie in Pasadena, but
he didn't play a whole lot of baseball, although he really a good
player. He was renowned as a football player, a basketball player and
a track star.
Spring training was in San Bernardino, which was
about 60 miles from where I was living in Alhambra. The first game I
played was the first game of the spring training season. And in that
game, I had two home runs and went four-for-five, and that was really
my start in professional baseball. They sent me to Albany, New York,
which at that time was a Class A League in the Eastern League. At that
time, they had AA, A1 and A, so I started at the third-highest level.
I played there for one year, struggled, but did fairly well, and went
back again the next year with Albany, led the league in home runs with
14. It was a real tough pitchers league with guys like Warren Spahn in
The next year, the war started to become involved,
and I signed up for the cadet program for the Navy to become a flier
in 1941, right after Pearl Harbor. From there I went to Toronto for
about five weeks, and I was AA, in the highest level you could play.
And then I was called into the service, and spent 2 years, and got my
wings, and ended up as an officer, and then got released out of the
service in 1945, in December.
I went to spring training with the Pirates and had
a fantastic spring. I hit something like 11 home runs in spring
training. I became Pittsburgh's starting left fielder in 1946.
Looking back, if it wasn't for two surrogate
fathers, Mr. Bodkin and Mr. Johnston, I don't know what I would have
ended up doing. They helped keep me around baseball all the time. And
my ambition, of course, was to play major league ball.
NOLAN RYAN: I was born in Refugio, Texas on January
31, 1947, the youngest of six children, and when I was only six weeks
old, the family moved east to Alvin. The oil company my father worked
for transferred his job to that area. So that's where we settled,
where I grew up, and where I still live today.
My brother Robert was something of a hero to me,
being a few years older and more advanced in athletics. I'd hang
around with Robert and his friends, shag flies for them, sometimes get
into a game when they were shy a player. I'd practice a lot with
Robert in our backyard. We would pitch to each other. He'd catch me,
and I'd catch him.
Some people claim that I developed my arm throwing
the Houston Post. That was not the case. It was a short throw from a
car, and I made the throw backhanded with my left hand while I steered
my 52 Chevy with my right. But I did develop the knack of being able
to roll and tie fifty newspapers in just about five minutes, and that
probably helped me develop strong fingers and wrists.
We got our first TV set, a Philco, in 1953, and I
remember watching the "Game of the Week" with Dizzy Dean. He
was colorful. That was the only baseball we got except what you heard
on the radio. Major league baseball was far removed. The only team you
could pick up was the St. Louis Cardinals on KMOX.
But when major league baseball came to Houston
later on, I really got into the habit of following Colt.45 games. And
I would lie in bed on those hot summer nights, listening to the radio
and picturing the action. My favorite players at that time though were
not on Houston and not pitchers. They were outfielders. Hank Aaron was
one of them. I admired him because of his power and his durability. I
also especially liked Roberto Clemente. He was what I thought an
athlete should be. He was driven and he put every bit of himself into
what he was doing.
My first organized sports experience was in Little
League. The first field in Alvin was cleared and built by my dad and
the other fathers of the kids in the program. I played Little League
from the time I was nine years old until I was thirteen. Some of my
fondest memories of baseball come from those years.
I had heard that my dad was a pretty fair
ballplayer in his time during the Depression. As a Little League
parent, he was always there when I needed him. My dad was just
interested in my having a good organized sports experience.
Making the Little League team was a thrill for all
us kids in Alvin. When we got our caps and uniforms, we'd be so proud
we'd wear the caps to school. That was a big deal. We played our games
in the Texas heat in those old heavy flannel uniforms, but no one
seemed to pay the weather any heed.
I was a good player, not a great player, although I
did pitch a no-hitter in Little League and was on the All Star team as
an eleven and twelve year old. I didn't develop great pitching
velocity until my sophomore year in high school.
One year after our Little League team had been
eliminated from tournament play, I remember standing on the field for
the closing ceremony. The man who was presenting the awards gave a
little talk. "One day," he said, "one of you Little
Leaguers will go on to play in the major leagues."
When I heard what he said, it was like a bell went
off in my head. I got home and told my mom about the ceremony and what
the man said. "Mom," I said, "that man was talking
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"It's me that he meant, Mom. I'm sure it was
me he was talking about."
There were under six hundred kids in my high
school, and you knew almost everyone. All I thought about in high
school was basketball, not baseball. I was six foot two, but I was the
center on the team because I was a good jumper.
In baseball, they said I could throw a ball through
a wall but I had a lot of problems with control. I was so tall and
skinny and raw that I didn't pay much attention to being scouted. I
had no idea that I could ever play in the big leagues.
One Sunday between my junior and senior years in
high school we went to see the Houston Colt 45's play the Los Angeles
Dodgers. Sandy Koufax was pitching and I was a big Koufax fan. It was
the first time I had a box seat and the first time I had ever seen
Sandy pitch. I was truly amazed at how fast he was and how good a
curveball he had. I think he was the most overpowering pitcher I have
My senior year in high school, 1965, I went to the
Astrodome - it was the year it opened. I watched these major leaguers
play. They were so much older and more polished than I was . I never
considered myself on their level.
Throughout high school I was in my own world,
having fun on Friday and Saturday nights playing ball. Going to the
majors was not a big item as far as I was concerned. Scouts came
through and checked me out and didn't have the interest. There were no
radar guns - I didn't know how fast I was. I was so wild. I was just a
kid with a great arm. I didn't know what I had.
No one did - only Red Murff who was a scout for the
New York Mets then. I was selected in the eighth round of the 1965
free-agent draft, the 295th player taken. I was pretty disappointed.
It was like they were sending me a message that 294 high school
players had a better chance of making the majors than I did.
My first stop in organized baseball was Marion,
Virginia in the Appalachian Rookie League. I was 18 years old and had
never been away from home. Some of our trips on those old broken-down
buses lasted almost eight hours, and the conditions in some of those
ball parks -- awful rough fields, poor lighting, no showers.
The season there began very late so that high
school and college players signed after graduation would have a place
to play. That summer of 1965, more than 70 players passed through the
Marion roster. I lasted the whole season. Pitching in 13 games, I won
3 and lost 6 and struck out 115 batters in 78 innings. In the dim
light, to a lot of nervous kids, I guess I was a little dangerous to
hit against. I gave up 56 walks and hit 8 batters.
The following spring, 1966, I was assigned to
Greenville, South Carolina in the Western Carolina League. I earned
six hundred dollars a month there, a hundred dollars more than the
year before. The conditions were a bit primitive, cramped, and there
were dirty dressing rooms, bus road trips every other day. My wildness
was still with me and the word was out that I frightened some batters
and catchers alike with my velocity. I wound up with 272 strikeouts,
127 walks, and 17 wins all league highs. I had a great year, losing
just two games, the least in the league.
When the season ended I was promoted to
Williamsport, Pennsylvania in the AA Eastern League. It was only ten
days but a lot happened. I struck out 35 batters in 19 innings. On
September 1, 1966, I had the greatest game of my career up to that
point in time - striking out 19 batters in nine innings against
Pawtucket. I wound up with 21 strikeouts in ten innings but lost the
I was very excited about what I had accomplished in
the minors, but I was even more excited by the thought of pitching in
the majors, throwing against major league hitters. I'd been told that
I would join the Mets after September 1 - the date major league teams
called up prospects from the minors for the final month of the season
- -and I was looking forward to trying out my fastball against top
In my last start for Williamsport I was scheduled
to pitch just four innings and then get on a plane and fly to LaGuadia
Airport to join theNew York Mets. I had a no-hitter going through
When I returned to the dugout my manager Bill
Virdon said: "You've got to be going to report to the Mets, but
you've given up no hits. Do you want to continue pitching in this game
and go for the no-hitter?"
"Mr. Virdon," I told him, "if it's
all right with you, I'd just as soon move on to New York City.
I was excited to be in New York City but also a bit
awed by the whole thing. I had come all the way from A ball to the
major leagues in one season and had attracted a lot of fanfare.
Players would say, "Wait till you see this kid Ryan pitch. Wait
till you see his arm." And I felt I had to go out there and show
everybody how hard I could throw. It was the mentality of the
gunfighter, the fastest gun in the west.
I guess it was easy for Wes Westrum the manager of
the Mets, to pick all of that up. He told me: "Nolan, you're up
here just for us to take a look at you. Your major league future does
not depend on how you do. Just do the best you can."
His words helped me relax a little, but only a
little. Shea Stadium was a noisy place with jets always roaring
overhead from LaGuardia Airport. That was unsettling. The Mets drew
about 25,000 a game - - five times more people than lived in my
hometown of Alvin. When the games began, I would sit out in the
bullpen with the extra catchers and relief pitchers. Sometimes my mind
would drift back to thoughts of home.
My first major league appearance was on September
11, 1966 against the Milwaukee Braves. I had a big case of stage
fright walking out of the bullpen and stepping on the mound knowing I
would be pitching to players like Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Joe
But I got through it, giving up a home run to Joe
Torre--- but also getting my first major league strikeout. The batter
was Pat Jarvis, a rookie pitcher for Atlanta.
That first time on a major league mound was a
big learning experience for me. Hank Aaron said I had one of the
best fastballs he had ever seen. But one of the best fastballs I'd
ever thrown was hit for a home run by Joe Torre. I learned the
hard way that it would not be possible to get by in the major
leagues with just a fastball, no matter how hard it was thrown.