State of the Month: Texas

Interview with Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan. A lifelong resident of Texas, and the President of the Texas Rangers.
By: Dave Ungrady

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Photo by: Brad Newton

Brad Newton

See photos of Big Texas Attractions and Discover Texas' Best-Kept Secrets.

Few Texans can speak with such high authority about the state as Nolan Ryan, the Hall of Fame pitcher and a lifelong Texas resident. Ryan, the president of the Texas Rangers, was a major league pitcher for 27 seasons, including 9 with the Houston Astros and 5 with the Rangers.

Ryan, 64, was born in Refugio and grew up in Alvin where he met his wife while both were in grade school. Ryan’s legend looms large in Texas. Texas State Highway 288 near Alvin is named the Nolan Ryan Expressway and Nolan Ryan Junior High School in Pearland, TX, is located nearby. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999 and has been president of the Texas Ranger since 2008 and is also a team co-owner. He lives in the Fort Worth area.

During a 45-minute phone call, Ryan talked with a casual fondness about the state’s geographic diversity and natural beauty; the pride of being from a state that was once its own country; the pleasures of wade-fishing and his favorite baseball venue (it’s not Ranger’s Park). His Texas twang complemented a genial conversational style. No question was too mundane, and he laced some responses with a self-deprecating charm.

When asked about his favorite romantic getaway in Texas, he paused briefly, laughed calmly and said, “I don’t know that that was ever on my agenda.”

Mostly, Ryan offered keen insights into the pleasures of his beloved home state of Texas.

Why a Traveler Would Enjoy Texas
The diversity of the state. It has a semiarid climate. It has mountains, a tremendous amount of coastline and hill country. Whether you’re in Palo Duro Canyon or in the Rio Grande Valley or in the Davis Mountains or wade-fishing in Laguna Madre. If you come in April, you’ll see some of the prettiest wildflowers you’ll see anywhere in the United States, such as the bluebonnet.

A Place in Texas Unlike Any Other

The Palo Duro Canyon is the second-biggest canyon in the United States. It’s one of the treasures of our state. My son-in-law ranches in it and they have an outdoor theater [Pioneer Ampitheater] that features [the] Texas [Musical Drama] during the summer.

Something About Texas That Might Surprise Us
Fort Worth is known as a Cowtown, but look at its cultural aspect. There’s Bass Performance Hall. They have different museums. It has TCU [Texas Christian University], and a zoo. It has excellent restaurants and a downtown that is not overwhelmed with traffic and size. It has a really nice cultural district. It has a stock show and rodeo that goes on for 17 days.

What He Likes Most About Texas Culture
An attitude, the pride of being a Texan. History has a lot to do with it. We were our own country when we won independence from Mexico.

How He Deals With the Heat and Humidity
Air-conditioning. Growing up outside of Houston, we had no air-conditioning. You learn to dress accordingly. During the months that you deal with heat and humidity, we’re more of a casual state.

Favorite Beach
Port Aransas. You can still drive on the beach, they allow car and truck traffic on the end of the island. It’s a fishing village that is not as commercialized as some others. It’s got is own piers and wharfs. You can watch large ships come into the entrance at Corpus Christi Bay.

Favorite Town

Fredericksburg (about 80 miles west of Austin). It has a German culture and a proud history in the hill country of Texas. It’s a beautiful part of the state and is a good destination for tourists. The Admiral Nimitz museum is unique. They’ve done a good job of diversifying things for tourists.

Favorite Food and drink
I consume ice tea more than anything else, but Dr. Pepper is a Texas tradition. It started in Texas. And a Margarita. I think it’s a Mexican drink, but let’s say it probably was started in a Mexican restaurant in Texas.

Favorite Music
Country and western, George Strait.

Favorite Restaurants
I have 5 or 6 I’m very fond of. In Fort Worth, Del Frisco’s Steakhouse and Joe T. Garcia’s, where you can sit outside. I like sitting outside in Little Rhein Steakhouse in San Antonio on the River Walk during spring and fall when the weather is nice.

Favorite Landmarks
The Alamo and the unique Enchanted Rock north of Fredericksburg.

Favorite Cultural Venue
The Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth. I like to see the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and the concerts that come through there.

Favorite Rodeo Venue
The Fort Worth Rodeo. It’s a throwback to old-style rodeos where the focus is on rodeo and it’s a small venue.

Favorite Literary Figure
The guy who wrote Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry.

Favorite Historical Figure
Davy Crockett and James Bowie are considered true Texas heroes.

Favorite Fishing Places
I enjoy wade-fishing in the Luguna Madre. Its remoteness, the clarity of the water and the Redfish and Speckled Trout that are there.

Favorite Getaway
My ranch that I bought in 1990, on 25,000 acres. We’re in the cattle business. It’s remote. People wouldn’t find it if I told him how to get there. It’s at the end of the road and there’s a gate there.

Favorite Place to Play Baseball
Kokernot Baseball Park in Alpine. It’s one of the jewels of Texas baseball. It was built by a rancher who was a big baseball fan. The expanse and the architectural design of the stadium you don’t see every day.

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