ARLINGTON, Tex. — Nolan Ryan has stood on the mound and heard cheers after his 5,000th career strikeout.
He has been carried off the mound, by Rafael Palmeiro and Jeff Huson, after his seventh career no-hitter, on May 1, 1991 against the Blue Jays.
Yet, it was a different feeling Monday when the Rangers president accompanied Roger Staubach to stand beside the mound as the Dallas Cowboys legend threw the ceremonial first pitch. Ryan gazed around the upper deck at Rangers Ballpark.
Later they tallied the tickets; it was a standing room only crowd of 50,299, the sixth-largest regular-season crowd in franchise history.
“It was a special day, electricity was in the air, there was great anticipation,” Ryan said Tuesday afternoon, after attending a luncheon and then watching the end of a game between the Rangers’ top affiliates, triple-A Oklahoma City RedHawks and double-A Frisco Grizzlies, at Rangers Ballpark.
(Calgary third baseman Emerson Frostad popped up and grounded out in his two appearances for Oklahoma City, 10-1 winners.)
Consider how far the Rangers have come as a franchise.
“Where we are today compared to last summer, is that now there is a defined ownership group,” Ryan said. “They have come a long way with the process and it’s in a matter of not thinking if it’s going to happen, but when ... probably the end of the month there will be a transfer of an ownership. Hopefully it will ease some financial challenges we’ve faced.”
When Tom Hicks ran into financial troubles last summer, there was little difference between the Rangers and the Montreal Expos, when Major League Baseball operated the franchise.
For every $1 million in payroll the Rangers added, $1 million had to be subtracted.
Three groups — Beverly Hills, Calif. businessman Dennis Gilbert, Houston businessman Jim Crane and Pittsburgh attorney Chuck Greenberg — attempted to buy the Rangers from Hicks. Greenberg emerged as the winner for a reported $570 million US.
And Monday morn when Greenberg arrived, Ryan gave him a pair of black ostrich boots, with a Rangers logo at shin level.
“We got (the boots) at Justin’s over in Fort Worth,” Ryan said.
Greenberg wore the boots Monday for the Rangers’ come-from-behind win in the ninth.
If you want to do “bidness” in Texas, you’d best wear boots, as Jays president Paul Beeston did when he flew into Houston to sign Roger Clemens in 1996, outbidding the Yankees.
(George Steinbrenner to Beeston: “I had a wonderful time in Houston seeing Clemens.”
Beeston to Steinbrenner: “Me too, I signed him.”)
At the end of 2009, right-hander Kevin Millwood ($12 million US) was sent to Baltimore, while Hank Blalock ($6.8 million) was released.
The Rangers added tonight’s starter, right-hander Rich Harden ($7.5 million) of Victoria, B.C., Vladimir Guerrero ($6.5 million) and re-signed reliever Darren Oliver ($3.5 million).
The Rangers team payroll is $55.251 million (27th), down from $68.179 a year ago.
The Jays are 22nd ($62.234 million) but that does not include money being paid to departed players B.J. Ryan ($10 million) or Roy Halladay ($6 million).
“We had a budget (in 2009) and had to stay within it,” Ryan said. “Anything out of normal we needed approval for expenditures from Tom Hicks and MLB.”
The scouting world says the financial restraints cost the Rangers their No. 1 pick, lefty Matt Purke, a high schooler of Klein, Tex., currently dominating for TCU Horned Frogs.
“We could have gone more but I don’t know if he would have signed,” Ryan said. “Our final offer was $4 million. We went well above slot.”
Slot money for 14th overall pick was $2.5 million.
“Monday was a little nerve-wracking until the ninth,” Ryan said. “If we can improve attendance and revenue, we feel like we’re in a good position. We have our best 25, with as much balance as some of those Rangers teams in the ’90s.”
The Rangers reached the post-season in three of four years from 1996 to 1999.
With a settled ownership, expect them to be headed back.