Ventura in Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame, recalls Nolan Ryan
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Robin Ventura had a bat in his hand and a helmet on his head. For reasons probably he doesn’t even know, Ventura threw down the bat and took off the helmet before charging into infamy.
The Oklahoman reports it’s been 25 years since Ventura made baseball history. In a scene that won’t be forgotten for decades, Ventura sprinted at 46-year-old Nolan Ryan, who had just plunked Ventura in the shoulder with a pitch.
You remember what happened. Ventura ducked his head, right into the arms of the Texas Rangers legend. Ryan put the 26-year-old Ventura in a headlock and started pummeling.
A victory for old guys everywhere.
“Some things don’t work out for you, I guess,” Ventura said with a chuckle on Monday night, when he was inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame.
Ventura now is 51. Older than Ryan was when he landed six uppercuts to Ventura’s face before they were engulfed by players from both teams at old Arlington Stadium.
The anniversary was widely celebrated south of the Red River. Ryan won 326 games, recorded a major league record 5,714 strikeouts and pitched seven no-hitters. Yet none are as renowned as that August night when he put a beating on the Chicago White Sox’ star.
But Ventura has a message for all those who wondered how he recovered from Aug. 4, 1993.
“I still have a life,” Ventura said.
And a good one. Ventura, an Oklahoma State star from 1986-88, played 16 major league seasons, with 1,885 hits and 294 home runs. Ventura twice was an all-star, and he spent five years, 2012-16, as the White Sox manager.
But just like his old sparring partner, Ventura is best remembered for that night in Arlington.
Ventura isn’t surprised the anniversary is a virtual Texas holiday, or that his bout with Ryan is part of baseball lore.
“It lives on the internet,” Ventura said. “It is what it is.”
Even as the White Sox manager, his players, who depended on Ventura to write their name on the lineup card, would bust Ventura for that dubious night.
“Yeah, everybody,” Ventura said. “That’s just part of playing. And you know, kind of going back and forth. You can give it out as well. There’s things that they knew they could joke with.”
Ventura came to OSU as a 17-year-old Californian. When first contacted by the Cowboys, he said he didn’t even believe it was Oklahoma State. He figured it was Northeastern Oklahoma State or some smaller school. But Ventura became a star; he was one of five members in the inaugural College Baseball Hall of Fame class.
Now Ventura is back in Pismo Beach, California. He’s not necessarily finished with baseball. But he’s not itching, either.
Despite the occasional jab, Ventura enjoyed managing.
“When you’re done playing, that’s the closest you can get to it,” Ventura said. “Motivating guys, helping guys, putting an arm around somebody, trying to get the best out of ’em. Helping them understand what it takes to not only make it, but to stay.
“There’s parts of it you miss, but there’s some you don’t, either. We lost quite a few games, and that stuff takes a toll and you don’t enjoy it. But I did enjoy the game. I enjoyed thinking through the game. Trying to put us in the right spots.”
That right spot included Stillwater.
“I believe God brought me to Oklahoma,” Ventura told the crowd Monday night from the stage of the Riverwind Showcase Theatre. “I want to thank God for making me a Cowboy.”
Current OSU baseball coach Josh Holliday, who was a kid hanging around the ballpark in Ventura’s Cowboy days, brought Ventura’s college roommate, Jim Ifland, to the induction. Ventura thanked the Holliday family — Josh’s father, Tom, and uncle, Dave, were OSU assistant coaches in the 1980s — and extended the notion of OSU family beyond them.
“As part of being in the major leagues for a long time, one of the things dear to my heart, having played in all these great cathedrals, there was always someone in the stands with a little bit of orange on,” Ventura said. “It’s a special feeling always having that family around.
“You hold onto it. You believe in it. You’re a part of it.”
Ventura indeed has a life after Nolan Ryan.
Also inducted Monday night were:
— OU athletic director Joe Castiglione, who in 20 years has transformed Sooner sports
— The late cowboy, Bill Pickett, who invented the rodeo technique of bulldogging, which now we call steer wrestling
— Former Jenks football coach Allan Trimble, who led the Trojans to 13 Class 6A state championships
— Larry Coker, who came from Okemah and coached on the staffs at Tulsa, OSU and OU, then was head coach of Miami’s great 2001 national championship team
— Ken Mendenhall, who played center at OU, then went on to make 118 consecutive starts for the Baltimore Colts
— Mat Hoffman, an icon of bicycle trick riding who is considered the greatest vert-ramp rider in BMX freestyle.
Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com