Ryan's biggest impact on the Rangers has been, according to Daniels, "changing the mind-set here. People talk about pitch counts, but I think the main thing with Nolan, more than anything else, was raising expectations. From Day One, Nolan's message was, We expect more from you as a Rangers starting pitcher."
Holland recalls a game last year in which he pitched well but failed to cover first base on a ground ball to the right side. "After I was out of the game, I went down to the clubhouse, and there was Nolan waiting for me," he says. "He wanted to make it clear that not covering first was unacceptable."
Ryan's door is open to all his pitchers. Last spring Wilson, coming off a disappointing 2008 season as a closer, went to Ryan with the idea of starting. "It can be really intimidating to go up to a living legend and ask him what he thinks about what you're doing," says Wilson, who read and reread a number of Ryan's books on pitching and fitness while growing up in Southern California. "I went into his office, and it turned into a 1½-hour conversation about my strengths and weaknesses and ultimately my future." Ryan told him while it wasn't going to happen that year, Wilson would be given a chance in spring training 2010 to win a job—which is exactly what he did. Says the 29-year-old lefthander, "Nolan was absolutely the first guy that was in my corner with me being a starting pitcher."
Ryan, who publicly predicted before this season that the Rangers would win 92 games, believes Texas has the pitchers to win its first division crown since 1999. He says "It's important to have people willing to make a commitment," and he believes he has those pitchers in guys like Wilson, who fought his way into the rotation; Feldman, once a struggling reliever who completely revamped his delivery twice in the last three years; and Lewis, who after struggling to stick in the majors for five years has made an astounding comeback after two years in Japan. "You look at a guy like Colby, who's willing to take his family to Japan for two years and to work his way back—that takes tremendous commitment and belief in yourself," says Ryan. "That's the kind of veteran presence we needed."
This kind of ballplayer, to hear Ryan tell it, is a rare breed today. "Baseball got into allowing these kids to not do the work," he says. "Money is the reason and the excuse you get from organizations: that we're protecting our investments. Well, protect the investment [too much], and you may not get the return."
And then he goes silent. It's 10 minutes to first pitch at the Ballpark in Arlington. All the Rangers' president can do now is watch and wait for the returns from his own investment.
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