As the baseball season approaches its conclusion I look back on some of my fondest memories. It actually started back in the 60s in New England. I was raised in a neighborhood consisting primarily of boys my age so I quickly learned what baseball cards were used for. I exceled in a game where you flipped a card against another person and the best combination flip would get to keep both cards. I had some great cards and I kept them in one of my Dad’s cigar boxes … Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Brooks Robinson, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Harmon Killebrew. In the late 60s, we moved to Houston as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” the Astrodome, finished completion. I became an Astros’ fan and revered legends such as Rusty Staub, Jim Wynn, Joe Morgan, Bob Aspromonte and Larry Dierker. Dad and I attended several games and even sat through the longest shutout ever played. The Astros beat the Mets as Houston scored the only run in the twenty-fourth inning at one-thirty in the morning! It was before cell phones so we had a lot of explaining to do to my mom when we arrived home at three am!
Fast-forward to the fall of 1986 when I moved to the DFW area and started working the Texas Rangers’ baseball charters for Delta. Needless to say for this sports nut, it was fun being around players who shared my passion of sports. Rick, my husband of less than a year then, would rather have cooked his latest creation or garden over my watching ESPN. The following spring found me talking Rick into replacing our ski vacation with spring training in Port Charlotte, Florida. Spring training used to provide a more relaxed atmosphere and you would get to meet the players. Rick surprised me and actually enjoyed the experience so much that we returned every year until their move to the Cactus League in Arizona.
In late 1988, to the thrill of Ranger fans and to the dismay of Astros fans — especially my Mom — Nolan Ryan signed on with Texas. That man’s arrival created almost as much excitement as winning the lottery. The Rangers’ charters became “prime real estate” on the bid sheet and flight attendants senior to me who didn’t even care about baseball were infiltrating my turf! Fortunately I flew “In Charge” (a position many avoided) so I was able to keep my foot in the door.
Nolan was embarrassed with all the attention coming from the media and fans. I felt sorry for him, as one night we witnessed a fan interrupting his family meal to ask for an autograph. That same year, Mom, who was in her late seventies, asked me to take her to spring training. We flew into Sarasota-Bradenton. Without Rick with us, I got goofed up leaving the airport and after some time found us heading south toward Naples instead of north to Port Charlotte! By the time I got turned around, we had reached the city limits just before nine pm. The restaurant on the wharf that I had bragged about to Mom wouldn’t seat us, as they were trying to close. Needless to say, we were now pretty hungry even by central time standards! A good flight attendant (as well as former Brownie/Girl Scout) always has a Plan B to put in place. There was a small restaurant that the players frequented and stayed open late. As we perused the menu, Mom excitedly told the waiter how I worked the Rangers’ charters for Delta. He smiled and told us that one of the players was there — Nolan Ryan. I quickly scribbled a note and gave it to the waiter to give Nolan. A few minutes later the waiter returned and said Nolan wanted to meet Mom. He then escorted us back to a banquet room. Mom was finally going to get to meet Nolan Ryan! She was beside herself! There stood Nolan and another gentleman. I introduced Nolan to my mom. He, in turn, introduced us to Craig Reynolds, a former shortstop for the Astros. Mom immediately dropped Nolan’s hand and threw her hands up to her face. “Oh, my! Craig Reynolds! I can’t believe it!”
According to Nolan, Craig never let him forget that moment — a fan getting more excited over Craig than Nolan! Later that year Mom had knee replacement surgery. When Mom died and I went through her things I found in her mementos a Get Well card Nolan signed for her. Yep… Mom dumping Nolan was just a momentary lapse in judgment.