Astros get it right, hire one of their own
Son of Texas legend, Ryan connected to team's past, promising future
HOUSTON -- There were tears and laughter, warm embraces and sweet memories.
"Everybody has their hometown team," Reid Ryan said. "And the Astros were mine."
Craig Biggio embraced him and welcomed him home. Enos Cabell did the same. Larry Dierker will stop by for a visit on Monday.
To all of them, all important names in this franchise's history, Astros owner Jim Crane did something important in hiring one of their own to be the club's new president of business operations.
Reid Ryan, 41, represents a connection to the franchise's past while offering an enthusiastic vision for its future. He's Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan's oldest son, and that means plenty around these parts.
He's also an accomplished baseball executive on his own, a man of charisma and energy who helped build and operate two successful Minor League teams in Corpus Christi and Round Rock.
As his dad said, "I know his passion for the game and his work ethic and all the things he'll bring to that position. He likes people. He understands customer service. He brings a dynamic that the fans are going to appreciate."
Reid grew up in the home clubhouse at the Astrodome and worked for a time as the team's bat boy. In his first five minutes on the new job, he dropped the names of some of the most popular Astros of all-time: Jose Cruz, Craig Reynolds and Alan Ashby.
He spoke of Cocoa Beach, Fla., too, where the club once held Spring Training. And around the room at Minute Maid Park, there were people he'd known his entire life. He fought his emotions, whispering at one point, "I'm trying not to cry."
There are huge challenges ahead. As general manager Jeff Luhnow reconstructs the baseball team, Ryan will attempt to get fans to come back to the ballpark, improve customer service, get the games on more televisions and do a better job of communicating the organization's blueprint of building through the farm system.
He began doing this immediately, saying how excited he was after having seen firsthand the talent the Astros have sent through their Double-A team at Corpus Christi in recent years. He said the Astros might still be a year or two away, but there are exciting players coming and, "That has me fired up."
"He has a dynamic personality," Biggio said. "I've known him since his dad used to bring him around the clubhouse at the Astrodome. He's got the business savvy, the relationship savvy.
"He understands what it takes on the business side to be successful. Baseball is a relationship business, and he has all those intangibles. He can mend the fences that need to be mended to get this thing going back in the right direction. From that standpoint, he's a perfect fit."
On this first day, he hit all the right notes. Ryan thanked the people of Corpus Christi and Round Rock for building ballparks and supporting their teams.
"They gave me this opportunity," he said. "The folks in the state of Texas love baseball, and I thank each and every one of them that supported us."
He thanked Crane for articulating an exciting vision for the franchise and Luhnow for having begun to put the pieces in place. He thanked his parents, his brother, Reese, and his wife and children.
Ryan said he would operate the Astros with a fairly simple philosophy. He said he would do right by the fans and that he would support Luhnow however he could in acquiring enough talent to win.
"I have just enough knowledge to be dangerous," he joked.
He'd once dreamed of being a Major League player, and when he realized that wasn't going to happen, he focused on running a team.
His dad said he was humbled that a kid who'd grown up around the clubhouses and saw the game from every angle would want to devote his adult life to it.
To that, Reid Ryan said something that ought to be inscribed on every wall in every professional clubhouse and front office.
"Baseball has given my family just so much," he said. "I hold this institution in very high regard. It's a honor and a privilege to get to work in this game. I'm a caretaker for the game, and I want to leave this game better than I found it. That's going to be my goal. If we do that, we will have had some success."
Standing in the back of the room was Don Sanders, one of the most successful businessmen in Texas and one of the Ryan family's closest friends and a longtime business partner in the Minor League teams and other endeavors.
He told Crane that this hiring would end up being maybe the smartest move he will ever make as an owner.
"If I owned a ballclub and could pick anybody I've ever met, he'd be the guy I'd hire," Sanders said of Ryan. "He's very focused, very quick, very clever. He's great with people. He'll make dramatic changes in terms of taking care of the clients. This is a great day for the Astros."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.