Ryan-Biggio first pitch a proud moment for Houston
Future Hall of Famer reminisces after reuniting with iconic righty on Opening Day
HOUSTON -- Following a rather eventful ceremonial-first-pitch experience at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday, Nolan Ryan chuckled sheepishly, shrugged his shoulders and said with his famous Texas drawl, "It's not my first wild pitch. It probably won't be my last."
Harry Doyle may have described Ryan's pitch as just a bit outside -- wide right, and nowhere near Craig Biggio's outstretched glove -- but the final destination didn't detract from the significance of the pitch. It brought together two of the most beloved figures in Astros history: Ryan and Biggio, who 26 years ago were batterymates for one season and have both etched their legacies in Houston as two of the city's greats.
Biggio was the starting catcher for Ryan's 100th career win as an Astro on July 9, 1988. Back then, Biggio was a 22-year-old rookie working to get comfortable both at the plate and behind it, all the while heeding sound advice from his veteran teammates that rookies were meant to be seen and not heard.
Biggio obliged, staying quiet while drinking in everything he could from his elders, including Ryan.
"I wasn't thinking about who the name and number was on the back," Biggio said of his batterymate. "I was just trying to catch the ball, do my job. Obviously, he's Nolan, one of the greatest pitchers of all time. It was great. It was kind of fun every fifth day to just watch a guy go out there and compete and play the way that he did. To be part of that, they're memories I'll have for a lifetime."
Fast-forward nearly three decades, and both are still very much involved with the Astros. Ryan recently rejoined the front office after a stint with the Rangers, and Biggio has been working as a special assistant since he retired in 2007.
Having both on the field together made for a fabulous photo op and a nice moment for the crowd -- regardless of where Ryan's pitch to Biggio actually landed.
"I wanted to get it to where it was catchable," Ryan laughed. "It wasn't."
If star-gazing is as popular a pastime on Opening Day as the actual game played, anyone looking for some baseball eye candy was in for a treat.
Hall of Famers past and future were on full display, from the old guard of Ryan and Yankees advisor Reggie Jackson to two presumed members of future classes: Biggio and Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who has begun his farewell tour and will retire at the end of the 2014 season.
Yankees and Astros fans alike gave Jeter a loud ovation during an elaborate pregame ceremony that involved all of the pageantry usually associated with Opening Day.
Despite a last-minute cancellation of the Frog-X Parachute Team due to unexpected high winds in the area, there was no shortage of ooh-ing and aah-ing by the fans, thanks in part to the Budweiser Clydesdales, who clippity-clopped around the warning track to deliver the official game ball while a gigantic American flag was unfurled by the Astros' most loyal season-ticket holders.
Two beloved broadcasters shared the emceeing duties, with longtime radio announcer Milo Hamilton greeting fans with "It's more than just a game. It's Astros baseball, so bring it on -- Astros 2014." Popular television play-by-play man Bill Brown introduced the rosters and lineups of both teams, followed by the presentation of colors by the U.S. Joint Service Color Guard.
Country music singer and native Texan Clay Walker capped the festivities with the singing of the national anthem, which he ended by loudly exclaiming, "God Bless Houston."
It was a fitting conclusion to a seamless Opening Day. It may not be an official national holiday, but for diehard baseball fans, this is better than Christmas.
"It's just an exciting day," Biggio said. "It's also a nervous day for the players, because now all of the numbers count. It's the grind and the anticipation of playing every game. It's just a great day."