Ryan hosting weeklong camp

Updated: January 31, 2005, 9:01 PM ET
Associated Press

HOUSTON -- Now that Nolan Ryan is back with Houston, the Astros had little trouble finding the perfect job for him.

The Hall of Famer is putting his extensive experience and wisdom to use by hosting a weeklong camp for pitchers in the Astros' organization. The camp opened Monday, his 58th birthday, at Minute Maid Park.

"It's an opportunity for me to get to know some of the younger pitchers in the organization," Ryan said. "It's a chance for me to stress to the kids what a unique opportunity they have and the commitment they need to make toward their careers."

We're getting some words of advice from a true superstar and a true legend. If we don't open up our ears and close our mouths, we'll miss a lot.
Tim Redding

Ryan already has watched many Astros pitchers come up through the minors because he owns the team's Triple-A affiliate in Round Rock and Double-A affiliate at Corpus Christi. The hope is that some of Ryan's expertise might rub off on fledgling big leaguers such as Tim Redding and Brandon Duckworth, as well as emerging prospects such as Ezequiel Astacio (13-10 at Round Rock last year) and Troy Patton (a ninth-round pick in 2004).

"When you have a guy like Nolan Ryan sitting around and talking to them, they perk up and listen," said Dewey Robinson, the club's minor league pitching coordinator.

Ryan, who pitched for Houston from 1980-88, returned to the Astros when he signed a personal services contract in January 2004. He spent much of last season watching and advising pitchers throughout the organization, mostly those at Round Rock.

The Astros recently decided to expand his role by creating the camp, which includes only four pitchers on the 40-man major league roster.

"Part of it was in regard to how we can best use Nolan's services as an adviser to the club," general manager Tim Purpura said. "And how we can continue to grow our pitching program. We definitely may expand this in the future."

For much of Monday's opening session, Ryan stood to the side offering advice while pitchers took their turn throwing off the mound. The three-hour workout was videotaped and will be reviewed by the pitchers on Tuesday and Thursday, with Ryan and the Astros' coaching staff offering tips along the way.

"We're getting some words of advice from a true superstar and a true legend," said Redding, who spent plenty of time with Ryan during his days at Round Rock. "If we don't open up our ears and close our mouths, we'll miss a lot."

Ryan first joined the Astros after the 1979 season when then-owner John McMullen lured him away from the California Angels with the first seven-digit average salary in baseball history. The Astros won their first division title in 1980.

The hard-throwing right-hander helped lead the Astros to a second NL West title in 1986. Along the way he threw one of his seven no-hitters, broke Walter Johnson's career strikeouts record and became the first pitcher to strike out 4,000.

But Ryan departed unhappily after the 1988 season when McMullen declined to make a serious bid to keep him. He signed with the Rangers at 41 and went on to pitch two more no-hitters and boost his strikeout total to 5,714 before retiring in 1993 at 46.

Ryan then fulfilled a 10-year personal services contract with Texas, and went into the Hall of Fame as a Ranger.

After Ryan turned down a new deal with Texas, Astros owner Drayton McLane signed him to a five-year contract.

"I enjoy this role at this point in my life," Ryan said. "I feel like I have something to offer. I'm certainly interested in doing this."


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press