ARLINGTON (AP) – Robin Ventura hasn’t spoken to Nolan Ryan since charging the mound against the Hall of Fame pitcher 19 seasons ago.
When Ventura makes his managerial debut for the Chicago White Sox on Friday at Texas, Ryan will be sitting in the front row of his team’s new-look ballpark.
Six months after being hired to his first managing job, Ventura’s first test comes against the two-time defending American League champion Rangers for which Ryan is now president, CEO and part-owner.
“It’s more of what the teams were going through at that time,” Ventura said Thursday when asked what he was thinking when he took off for the mound that hot August night at old Arlington Stadium in 1993. “It wasn’t a me against him thing.”
Ventura was then a 26-year-old third baseman for the White Sox who played 12 more seasons after that. Ryan, the major league strikeout king in the final season of his record 27-year playing career, got the player 20 years younger than him in a headlock and landed several blows.
Video of the brawl is still wildly popular at Rangers Ballpark, getting cheers every time it is shown.
But Rangers fans won’t get to see it during the weekend series since the team has no plans to show it on the large video board while the White Sox are in town. They still get a chance to boo Ventura when he’s introduced before the opener.
“I’ve seen it, so it’s not like I haven’t seen it. They can play it if they want. It’s not going to change any decision I make or anything else I do,” Ventura said. “I’ve played here in the past, it’s not like I never came back here. (Fans) can get all riled up all they want. … I’m concerned more about what my guys are doing and how we play than I’m worried about if I get booed.”
Ryan has said he plans to speak with Ventura during batting practice or another time Friday. He said the two have never spoken because their paths have not crossed through the years.
“It happened so long ago, and there’s no animosity on anyone’s part,” Ryan said, referring to the scuffle almost 19 years ago. “It was part of our careers, and just a response to the moment.”
Ryan said that even now, a picture of the moment is one of the most frequent item he’s asked to autograph.
“I’m surprised that it’s taken on the life that it has,” he said.
Ventura said there are no hard feelings.
The Rangers are marking the franchise’s move from Washington to Texas on the heels of their only two World Series appearances, and twice coming within a strike of a championship-clinching victory last October. The first-pitch ceremony Friday will include 13 players from the 1972 team.
It will be the 12th opening day for Michael Young, the Rangers’ longest-tenured player who hit .423 in 19 Cactus League games this spring.
“I know it’s a lot (of opening days),” Young said. “Every year, it’s getting better.”
Colby Lewis, another Texas pitcher who previously pitched in Japan, goes in the opener against left-hander John Danks, like Lewis a former first-round pick by the Rangers. It is the first opening-day start for both.
Yu Darvish, the top pitcher from Japan that the Rangers committed more than $107 million this winter to sign, is scheduled to make his major league debut in the fourth game, Monday night against Seattle.
Lewis pitched two seasons in Japan before returning two years ago to the Rangers, who drafted him 38th overall as a supplemental first-round pick in 1999. He won 10 games as a Rangers rookie in 2003, and was in the rotation to start the following season before a rotator cuff injury derailed his progress. He eventually had stops in Detroit, Washington and Oakland before going to Japan.
His first opening-day start for his original team comes after being so close to a World Series title six months ago.
“I feel blessed for the opportunity, and grateful,” Lewis said. “We did everything we needed (last year) except for one pitch really. … We’ve got the same group of core guys back. The opportunity is there for us to do it again.”
Danks, from the Austin area about three hours away, was drafted ninth overall by Texas in 2003. He grew up going to Rangers Ballpark and always looked forward to possibly pitching on opening day there one day.
He will do it for the White Sox, who gave him a new $65 million, five-year deal this winter. Chicago acquired him in December 2006 in a five-player deal that sent Brandon McCarthy to Texas.
“To be against anyone, it will be exciting,” said Danks, downplaying the significance of doing it against Texas.
Having been to so many games at Rangers Ballpark as a fan, and a player, Danks has often seen that video of his manager’s brawl with Ryan.
“We might take a couple of stabs at Robin if we win a couple of games here,” said Danks, adding with a smile that there haven’t been any jokes about it yet. “I need to learn him first and make sure I can. He might beat me up.”
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