When I was a preteen, there was no one I wanted to be more than Nolan Ryan.
He was a legendary pitcher with the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers while I was becoming of age in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a guy who was the greatest strikeout slinger of all time, with a preternatural tendency to throw no-hitters. He didn’t win as many games as he should’ve, because the teams he played for were usually bad, but people loved the guy.
I admired that Ryan was a small-town boy that came back to his home state and seemed to get better as he got older. Those were values I, well, valued. I sought out his baseball cards, and saved my pennies so I could maybe one day buy his rookie card when he was with the New York Mets. Hoped my dad could take me to a game where he pitched. And I dreamed that I, too, could make it to the majors one day by throwing as hard as him.
None of those things happened. But what I COULD do was buy newspapers. So I bought copies of the Orange County Register when Ryan did his sixth and seventh no-hitter, and his 300th win, and even the time he fought then-youngster Robin Ventura in a legendary throw down — Ryan won, of course.
I kept those print pages even as I moved on to other heroes as I became older and he finished his career — actually, I stopped worshiping heroes altogether. But I would always smile whenever I came across Ryan’s name, because it took me to a time in my life when I dreamed I could do things.
It didn’t matter if those dreams didn’t come to fruition. The point was that I imagined they could, and when they didn’t happen, I moved on to other dreams.
I never lost hope that one day, dreams might come true.
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Decades passed. I didn’t follow baseball as closely as I used to. But I made awesome new friends. One of them is Jesse Sanchez. He’s a writer with MLB.com – a digital-media pioneer, I ended up finding out recently on Clubhouse (Do you follow me there? You should — I’m having a conversation there about my new LA Times podcast this Monday).
When Jesse told me he was from Dallas, I immediately asked if he had ever met Nolan Ryan, and told him about my childhood affinity for him. Jesse said that he did, that Ryan was a gentleman, and that he would make it so I would meet him one day.
He made it happen.
It was 2008, I think. I was on tour for one of my books, and had a signing in Dallas but came in a day early. Jesse was kind enough to serve as my ambassador to the City of Hate, which is actually a cool town (sorry, Houston). He took me to the Tex-Mex palace Herrera’s, led me past the grassy knoll (we were in separate cars), and even drove past SMU just so I could see Dubya’s neighborhood.
And in the evening, we went to Arlington Stadium to see the Texas Rangers play the Anaheim Angels.
I was just happy to see a baseball game in a ballpark I hadn’t visited before. Jesse, ever the gracious-but-proud host, told me Arlington Stadium traditions and gave insights on Rangers players and coaches, like a Mexican-American coach whose name I can’t remember but who was a Tejano institution.
It was a great game, a great time — did I want to meet Nolan Ryan?
We went down to outside the clubhouse after the game. People who REALLY know me know I’m shy AF and never want to be an imposition on anyone. I never ask for anything, never talk to people I don’t know or even those I do, and always stay unassuming like a REAL Mexican from el rancho does.
Jesse wouldn’t accept my shyness. He asked around, then told me Nolan Ryan would walk past us, so I had a chance to say what I needed.
The Rangers lost that day, so Ryan — who was a part-owner of the team at the time — wasn’t in the best of moods. He knew Jesse, though, so stopped when Jesse greeted him and introduced me as a big fan.
I spat out that I admired Mr. Ryan’s career and that he was an inspiration to me growing up. Ryan took my admiration and got ready to move on — not in a rude way, but in a way of an owner whose team lost. I got it.
But then I said the one thing I knew would get his attention.
“Buzzie Bavasi made a mistake letting you go,” I told Ryan as he began to walk away.
The Ryan Express stopped. He looked at me. And smiled as big of a grin as I’ve ever seen.
Bavasi was the Angels general manager that let Ryan leave the team as a free agent after the 1979 season, telling the press he could sign two 8-7 pitchers to replace Ryan (he had finished 16-14 that year, the first that the Angels made the playoffs).
Ryan went on to a Hall of Fame career. Bavasi ain’t there.
I can’t remember what Ryan told me, but he said it with relish and #respect to me for knowing this bit of trivia that meant so much to him. I didn’t ask for an autograph, or say anything more other than thank him for his time.
I didn’t need to. I got to meet Nolan Ryan.
Dreams do come true, even 20 years and a lifetime later. They can come true even after you forget about them. All you got to do is share them — and the angels in your life will make them happen.
But not the Angels. Arte Moreno is a cheapskate. Met him once, and nearly met him again — THAT is another story…
GRÍTALE A GUTI
This is the column where I take your questions about ANYTHING. And away we go…
What are your thoughts on immigration? I understand that it’s complicated and that, practically speaking, the U.S can’t take in the many unaccompanied kids and adults who are showing up at the border. But my bleeding heart says to give them safe shelter. Por ejemplo, if the kids have family here, help them get to their tio’s or tia’s casa. And all the bebés still in custody…ugh…obvi I don’t have the answers, but I know that separating families en la frontera wasn’t the answer…and we can’t leave them all in limbo/custody. Feel me?
It’s not complicated: Let them in. Help them set up for success. That said, I’m actually all for a monitored border, because we deserve to know who’s coming in and because smugglers are no longer the hippie chick and pocho from Huntington Beach who sneaked in my then-teenage dad back in 1968.
But give me the hustle of a kid or adult who walked from Central America to the U.S.-Mexico border any day over some alt-loser gaba who’s a PANDEJO PANDEJO PANDEJO.
Got a question for Guti? Email me here.
Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:
IMAGE OF THE WEEK: The image of my mami that I carry in my work bag to remind me of what’s important in life. The second anniversary of her death was last week, and it’s not getting any easier — but I shall always WERK in her honor.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
JAMES BALDWIN: I didn’t think of myself as a public speaker, or as a spokesman, but I knew I could get a story past the editor’s desk. And once you realize that you can do something, it would be difficult to live with yourself if you didn’t do it.
INTERVIEWER Can you discern talent in someone?
BALDWIN Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but, most of all, endurance.
LISTENING:“Puñalada Trapera,” Amalia Mendoza. This singer is in the second tier of Mexican ranchera singers, sadly and undeservedly. Amalia had a great, plaintive voice that wrapped itself around great songs like this one, which translates as “Backstab.” And she had one of the great nicknames in any language — “La Tariácuri,” a callback to the trio she was a part of with her brothers but also an homage to the Purépecha chief whose name is only cherished in Michoacán due to Aztec hegemony.
READING: “How Black Caribbean Communities Are Reviving an Ancestral Dance Tradition” A great Q & A is always a delight, and this one weaves in post-colonialism, dance, COVID, and stupid academics into an inspiring read.
SHOUTOUT TO: Maribel, who kindly donated 100 tacos to sponsor a full month of MailChango! She writes: “More readers should check out Myriam Gurba’s Tasteful Rude (won’t be a stroll in the park, but it will make you feel culture can be something wonderfully messy and tasty).”
In case you’ve forgotten or are one of those subscribers to my cantos who don’t read my cantos: I spoke with Myriam about her memoir a few weeks ago for Alta. She epitomizes lighting in a pen, and her book reviews make Kingsley Amis seem as sharp as the eraser part of a pencil. So follow Maribel’s plug NOW!
Subscribe to My Podcast!
In case you’ve forgotten or are one of those subscribers to my cantos who don’t read my cantos: I’m the host of “The Times: Daily news from the L.A. Times,” the new podcast from the Los Angeles Times that debuts May 3 aka THIS MONDAY. Expect the world through the eyes of the West Coast, in a half hour filled with insight and DESMADRE. Subscribe on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts — DO IT DO IT DO IT!!!
May 3: It’s the debut of “The Times,” so make sure to subscribe, already! To promote, I’ll be taking over the LA Times’ Twitter account at 9 in the morning, and do a Clubhouse event on my own channel at 9:15 at night — I’ll be under @gustavodesmadre
May 6: I’ll be doing a Zoom lecture on New Mexican food for the Santa Fe Public Library at 5 p.m. PST. It’s FREE, but you gotta RSVP here.
Gustavo in the News
“A season of turnover”: Columbia Journalism Review plugs the podcast.
“Sun Sampler”: The California Sun is a great, paid newsletter that gathers all the best stories across the Golden State, and shouts me every once in a while…like here.
“HomeState: Texas hospitality comes to West Adams”: A mention of my KCRW #TortillaTournament, which is returning sooner rather than later.
“Essential California: Our years together, and what’s next”: Julia Wick, the most underrated California chronicler since Frank Norris, signs off as the writer of the LA Times’ signature daily newsletter (she’s moving on to cover the Newsom recall for us) and is kind enough to include one of my columnas.
“OC’s Los Alamitos approves ethnic studies course, but not everyone is onboard”: My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” talks about OC’s official coronavirus website, which is barely better than GeoCities.
“The low-rated, kinda sleepy and quietly radical speech”: Two weeks in a row as Left on KCRW’s venerable “Left, Right & Center” — it’s fun!
“Univisión News”: I appear on the Spanish-language television giant’s English-language broadcast to talk about one of my columnas.
“Gustavo Arellano on “The Times” podcast”: I take over the LA Times’ Instagram account to make up for the fact that my latest “Grítale a Guti” is LOST.
“FOX 11 News at 6”: I come on with anchors Elex Michaelson and Christine Devine to talk about one of my columnas.
“Festival of Books: What our columnists are reading”: I appear along with my favorite LA Times columnistas to shout out our favorite books and reading habits.
“In California governor recall, Latinos have a chance to cause political ‘desmadre’”: My latest Los Angeles Times columna talks about the potential Latinos have to do what my headline says — and here’s the columna in Spanish. KEY QUOTE: “There is one group, however, that can decide the election no matter what happens in the coming months: Latinos. We are the ultimate swing vote in this race, because we can cause the most desmadre.”
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