A journey that started nearly 20 years ago when the eldest son of Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan founded the Round Rock Express circled the bases and returned home Thursday night after knocking it out of the park.
Reid Ryan, president of the World Series champion Houston Astros, brought the long-coveted hardware to a party attended by several hundred at Gail “Big Boy” Hester’s Automotive and Body Shop. Not surprisingly, Ryan received a hero’s welcome in the city that was the former home of the Astros’ Triple-A franchise.
“I never thought I’d be back in Round Rock with the World Series trophy,” he said. “Back in the late ’90s, I just wanted to bring pro baseball to Central Texas. All the rest has been gravy.
“When Big Boy called me about doing something here, I said, ‘Absolutely.’ We had these garage parties every year to kick off the baseball season. Without this town, this community, I never would have had the opportunity to be a part of winning this trophy. I owe a lot to Round Rock, and that’s why I’m here.”
The party was attended by the entire Express staff (the team was affiliated with the Astros in 2000-10 before switching to the Texas Rangers), many Round Rock community and civic leaders, former Express players and Round Rock’s first manager, Jackie Moore, who is in the club’s hall of fame.
“This is Round Rock. There’s a spirit here hard to find anywhere else, and I’ve been a lot of places,” Moore said. “Reid, his family and Ryan-Sanders Baseball can always call this home.
“Look at Reid and what he’s accomplished. When this whole thing started, he was a kid who got the keys to run a Double-A franchise. Now he’s the president of a World Series champion. I’d say the kid’s done good.”
Ryan said the offseason has been a whirlwind.
“Remember, the World Series didn’t end until November,” he said. “Then we had to plan for a parade, deal with a lot of run-down, worn-out people, the winter meetings and everybody wanting to talk to you.
“After the holidays, it’s been fanfests and winter caravans, and I couldn’t take two steps without somebody either wanting to take a photo or telling me the story of what the championship meant to them. Not that I’m complaining.”
Right now the Astros are working on fitting everyone for a championship ring. The team will visit the White House in March.
Ryan said he doesn’t have one favorite offseason story, but rather a collection of them.
“I think the letters, emails and chats with people whose dad was in hospice and held on because he wanted to see the Astros win a World Series. Or about a grandpa who took his son or daughter to games, and now that they’re older they take their kids to Astros games. Or less privileged folks or those shattered by the hurricane who were at least briefly uplifted that their team won it all.
“That’s where the real deep meaning has been for me. How much joy a trophy and a championship can bring to people.”
To get that title requires not only talent, but good fortune.
“You’ve got to get a little bit lucky,” Ryan said. “I saw my dad come so close in ’79, ’80, ’81, ’86. … There was so much heartbreak (for the Astros and Rangers) in the past.
“So you need some breaks, and we got ours when Cleveland lost because the Indians really owned us last year. We did not match up well to Cleveland — it was as simple as that — but fortunately for us, we did not have to play them.”
What do the Astros do for an encore? Well, they return every significant player from the 2017 squad, and they traded for a top-line starting pitcher in Gerrit Cole and signed reliable relievers Joe Smith and Hector Rondon in free agency.
“We’re telling our staff it was a great run, be excited, but this isn’t the finish line,” Ryan said. “If we truly want to be a great franchise, we need staying power, a return trip to the playoffs. Does that equal World Series? I don’t know because you need a lot of things to go your way, but you can’t win the Series unless you make the playoffs.
“If we get to the postseason, I’ll take my chances with this club.”