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Fame, Fortune Finally Catch Up With Ryan : Baseball: Since joining the Texas Rangers, he has secured his place in history and begun to reap the financial rewards of his success.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Setting records each time he takes the mound made Texas Rangers pitcher Nolan Ryan a household name.

Hawking everything from office products to commemorative bone handle knives made his face so familiar that he can no longer enjoy his favorite hamburger at a remote outpost in his native state.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a restaurant in Cotulla, Texas, or Houston, there’ll be people coming up to talk,” Ryan said. “I think the commercials made me more recognizable.”

Until two years ago when he bolted the Houston Astros for Ranger riches, Ryan could occasionally go out for dinner with his family and not be interrupted by adoring fans.

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He was down home Nolan, a fellow Texan and rancher, who enjoyed eating red meat just like them.

Then came his 5,000th-career strikeout, his sixth no-hitter, 300 career victories, uncounted commercials, and Ryan’s fame blossomed from future Hall of Famer to Texas cult hero status.

Country music performer Jerry Jeff Walker wrote a song about Ryan called “Nolan Ryan, He’s a Hero to Us All.”

“He came down last spring and sang it for us, did a pretty good job,” Ryan said.

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Being a Texan, born in Refugio and raised in Alvin, gives Ryan a familiarity that wouldn’t exist if he performed in another state.

“People feel at ease to come up and visit because you’re from the state and you’re on a team that they follow,” Ryan said. “We go out in public now and it’s not as convenient as it used to be.”

Ryan is no longer the sole domain of the sports page.

In addition to baseball, his repertoire includes politics, ranching, banking, fitness and nutrition.

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Ryan considered entering the race for Texas Agriculture Commissioner, he owns a bank and has become a target for fitness and nutrition writers seeking the source of his fountain of youth.

“The trade journals pertaining to ranching, banking and fitness are starting to come around more,” Ryan said.

Ryanmania didn’t explode until Ryan joined the Rangers.

“The timing was just right,” he said. “I think the attitude about the Houston organization was going down at that time and it was just the opposite at Texas.

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“The organization was just changing ownership. They went out and acquired some hitters like they were interested in winning.”

Ryan has made more commercial appearances than pitching performances, adding significantly to his $3.2 million Rangers salary.

Some of Ryan’s commercial moments include: lamenting attempts to find his favorite hamburger establishment on the road; take a certain product and he promises in his best Texas drawl “those headaches will be long gone;” in another, he dons a tuxedo to promote a ball-point pen and there is a bone-handled knife on the market commemorating Ryan’s 300th career victory.

“Everyone talks about wearing the tux. I guess that was the lighter side,” Ryan said. “The enjoyment of doing a commercial depends on who you’re working with, but they are a lot of work. You don’t do one with just one take.”

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Ryan’s rigorous weight lifting program is the basis for a book he’s written with Rangers pitching coach Tom House. The biggest ingredient in Ryan’s favor is no secret; it’s just hard work.

“He’s still here because of his work ethic,” House said. “Nobody works harder.”

He leaves teammates in awe.

“I tried to keep up with him one day and he almost killed me,” former teammate Charley Kerfeld said.

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It will be difficult for Ryan to duplicate his 1990 season when he had a 13-9 record, 3.44 earned run average and led the American League with 232 strikeouts.

Ryan came off the injury list with a fracture in his back and pitched his sixth career no-hitter June 11 against the Oakland Athletics. At 44, he’s the oldest major leaguer to throw a no-hitter and he’s the first to accomplish the feat over three decades with three different teams.

He got his 300th victory July 31 against Milwaukee and begins 1991 with a 302-272 career record.

Even the sadness of Bo Jackson’s possible career ending injury brought another tribute to Ryan.

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Upon departing the Kansas City Royals this week, Jackson said he had 11 memories of his baseball career. One was hitting a home run in the All-Star game.

The other 10 were of facing Ryan.


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