Texas president Nolan Ryan has fond memories of St. Pete springs
For a young Nolan Ryan, St. Petersburg served as an escape. When baseball’s strikeout king was first honing his fastball with the New York Mets in the late 1960’s and early ‘70s, he trained in St. Petersburg.
As a 21-year-old, Ryan was the talk of Mets spring training in 1968, a much-hyped flamethrower whose minor league innings were limited because he was handled with kid gloves.
There were no skyscrapers, much fewer people, and of course, no major league baseball. But Ryan said that’s what made St. Pete an ideal spring training home.
“It was a good atmosphere for spring training and instructional league because you just came in and focused on why you were there,” Ryan said before Wednesday’s ALDS Game 1. “If you fished, you always had time to fish here because you had a lot of time on your hands. That seemed to be our No. 1 activity, because we had no money.”
Back then, the Mets shared Al Lang Field with the Cardinals.
“I think in those days it was just the excitement of being in the big leagues, just being in Florida and the anticipation of another season,” Ryan said. “Coming back brings backs memories, but it seems like a lifetime ago.”
Ryan struggled in his first five seasons with the Mets before being traded to the Angels following the 1971 season, then led the league in strikeouts 11 times and retired with a record 5,714 career K’s.
-- Eduardo A. Encina, Times staff writer (firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @EddieHometeam)