HOUSTON -- When the Braves won their first of what is now 13 consecutive division titles, Nolan Ryan still had two more years left in his legendary career.
Thus, as Ryan stood on the Minute Maid Park field before the start of Saturday's Game 3 of the National League Division Series, he could only provide praise toward a Braves organization that is much different than the one that existed for much of his playing days.
"When we used to go into [Atlanta-]Fulton [County] Stadium, there used to be 5,000 or 6,000 fans and zilch interest in the Braves," Ryan said. "They were just another organization and then it started turning around. Now they've had as good a run as anybody in the history of baseball."
Ryan, who won 324 career games before retiring after the 1993 season, gives much of the credit to Braves manager Bobby Cox. The Hall of Fame hurler says he didn't know Cox during his playing career. But over the past decade, Ryan says he's come to admire the success of the veteran skipper.
"You can just tell the respect the players have for him," Ryan said. "I think that's a big thing for a manager. He obviously knows how to win."
Ryan admits he was among the many who doubted whether it would be possible for the Braves to win another division title this year.
"I thought going into this season, 'We're going to find out about the Braves this year,' " Ryan said. "Darned if we didn't."
Adam LaRoche / 1B
Weight: 180 lbs
Bats: L / Throws: L
As the Braves were taking batting practice on Saturday, Ryan, who is a special advisor for the Astros, made sure to introduce himself to Atlanta rookie first baseman Adam LaRoche. Ryan played with LaRoche's father, Dave, with the Angels from 1977-79.
While standing with somewhat of a stunned looked on his face, LaRoche shook Ryan's hand and had a brief conversation with him.
"I think I've met him before," LaRoche said. "But I think it was when I was real young. My dad still really admires him. He compares many of the pitchers of today to him. When he sees something he doesn't like, he'll say, 'Nolly wouldn't have done that,' or 'Nolly wouldn't have put up with that.' "
Ryan said he has been aware of the progress LaRoche has made in his rookie career.
"You follow things like that when you find out that one of the kids you're familiar with is coming through the system," Ryan said. "You take personal interest in how things go in their career."
Russ Ortiz / P
Weight: 210 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
OU vs. Texas: When Russ Ortiz opposes Roger Clemens in Sunday's Game 4, it will mark the second straight day in which the University of Oklahoma and University of Texas rivalry will be on display. The two schools' football teams met in the annual Red River Shootout on Saturday afternoon in Dallas.
Clemens, who helped Texas win the College World Series in 1983, wore a UT hat during his press conference on Saturday. Ortiz, who helped Oklahoma win the 1994 CWS, didn't wear any Sooners gear during his Saturday press conference.
"I didn't really figure I'd have much time to wear it," Ortiz said. "So now I'm regretting that decision."
Longtime Braves announcer Joe Simpson, who was proudly wearing his OU shirt on Saturday, said, "If I'd have known he didn't have anything, I'd have given him this shirt to wear."
Phonegate is over: While the Braves were somewhat suspicious that the Astros were stalling to get Brad Lidge some extra time to enter Thursday's game, they now say they don't believe the Astros were trying to pull a fast one on them by claiming the bullpen phone wasn't working.
Cox talked to Astros manager Phil Garner about the situation that occurred in the seventh inning of Thursday's game. The conversation was cordial.
"If there is one guy in this profession of managing that I would believe it would be Phil Garner," Cox said."I knew at the time it wasn't a big deal."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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