When Oswalt was playing for the Astros' Double-A team in Round Rock, Ryan, the team's owner, vouched for him. In the more than nine years Oswalt spent playing for the Astros, he won 143 games and was named to three All-Star teams. Now, Oswalt is playing for Ryan once again.
"I've got a lot of respect for Nolan," Oswalt said. "He was actually kind of an idol of mine growing up. To get a guy like that to stand up for you and put their stamp on you as a young player, especially being someone that wasn't a high draft pick... I just had a really good relationship with him. And I love Texas. I got to play there for nine and a half years with the Astros."
Oswalt, 34, cited Ryan as one of the main reasons he signed a one-year, Minor League deal with the Rangers on Tuesday. He will also be reunited with Rangers bench coach Jackie Moore, who was Oswalt's manager in Round Rock 12 years ago. Mike Maddux, the Rangers pitching coach, held the same position in Round Rock when Oswalt was there in 2000 and went 11-4 with a 1.94 ERA in 18 starts.
"I think of [Round Rock] as the place that made me who I am now," Oswalt said. "Mike Maddux was there. He's the guy that I give credit to for teaching me how to get deeper into ballgames. Before then, I was a six-inning guy trying to strike out 12 a game to try to prove a point instead of throwing eight or nine innings and getting through a game with 100 pitches. That's two guys there that mean a lot to me."
He said he has been throwing bullpen sessions of 65-75 pitches every other day for the last six weeks and expects to be ready to join the big league team after about four starts in the Minors. Oswalt, who suffered from lower back inflammation last year, will start for Triple-A Round Rock Saturday at home against Albuquerque. He aims to throw between 50 and 60 pitches in his first outing of the year.
"My arm feels great. My body feels great," Oswalt said. "I know where I am health-wise and I think I can help the Rangers get deeper into ballgames. A lot of people talk about age and stuff. I talked to Nolan about this. When he left the Astros and went to the Rangers, people kind of gave up on him. And he pitched another five years."
Oswalt, who went 9-10 with a 3.69 ERA last year with the Phillies, said that playing close to his Mississippi home was not a big factor in his decision to play for the Rangers. He claimed that he even considered signing with the Dodgers. The Orioles, Phillies, Red Sox and Angels also showed interest.
"It doesn't play into effect a lot, actually," Oswalt said. "The way I look at it, if you're six hours away from home or 20 hours away from home, you're still away from home. That really didn't matter much."
Oswalt will also have the luxury of playing for the team with the best offense in baseball. The two-time defending American League champion Rangers lead the Major Leagues with a .287 batting average, 283 runs scored and 76 home runs -- 21 of them from Josh Hamilton. The Rangers bullpen also boasts a Major League-best 2.33 ERA.
"I thought (the Phillies) were going to be the ones competing against them in [the World Series] the first year," Oswalt said. "One thing that stands out with the Rangers is the lineup. The Rangers have great power from one to nine. They also have guys that put the bat on the ball. You don't find that in a lot of lineups."
Oswalt has not pitched in a Major League game since the end of last season. Oswalt pitched with the Phillies in 2011 and was 9-10 with a 3.69 ERA in 23 starts and 139 innings. Over 11 Major League seasons, he has a career record of 159-93 with a 3.21 ERA. He won 20 games for the Astros in both 2004 and 2005, and is a three-time All-Star. He has also finished in the top six in voting for the National League's Cy Young Award in six different seasons.
Christian Corona is an associate reporter for MLB.com.