“I was born to be a pitcher.”
Baseball is that summer pastime that so many of us love. The smell of the green grass as the warm breeze gently brushes across your face. Though not as big a sport as football is in Texas, baseball still has its place in people’s hearts. And if you’re one of those Texans, more than likely you, or someone you know, has encountered the man himself: Nolan Ryan. An almost mythical figure, Ryan’s time as a pitcher was before mine, but it’s rare that you’d find any fan of the sport who doesn’t know that name. From director Bradley Jackson, Facing Nolan shows us there’s so much we don’t know about this man.
He was born an ordinary boy in a small Texas town—playing his usual go-round of sports like baseball, basketball, and football—a young resumé you’d find associated with any other athlete. He married his childhood sweetheart, Ruth, who later became an integral part of the remarkable competitor we know today. Ryan was drafted to the Mets in 1965 and later made his Major League debut in 1966. But if you were there to see his first seasons as a pitcher, you would have thought, “this kid won’t last.” In fact, Ryan didn’t think he’d last long either. But thanks in part to Ruth, the story didn’t end there. He was eventually traded to the California Angels where he worked out the quirk in his pitching—never to be referenced as that “off” pitcher again.
Ryan never dabbled in performance enhancing drugs. There’s no scandals with his family, or gossip about infidelity. Facing Nolan is pure baseball and who he becomes on the field. Funny enough, directly from the players that faced him. And while the list of talented athletes involved in the documentary goes on and on, there’s one player mysteriously missing, Robin Ventura. Ryan says it’s funny that the “Ventura Incident” is one of the moments he’s most remembered for in his career. But the young Ventura getting the stuffing beat out of him after charging a much older Ryan at the mound, is rather funny. Always think twice before starting a fight, kids.
There’s a moment when fellow baseball great, Pete Rose, and Ryan are sitting in front of an audience at a charity function. The topic of Ryan’s career stats comes up, and Rose is blown away. “Are you human,” he asks. The whole place breaks out with laughter. But as you take in the documentary, you can’t help but wonder, how was he able to do it all? Ryan is the holder of 51 MLB records including most strikeouts, fewest hits per nine innings, and most no-hitters. He is also the oldest to ever throw a no-hitter at the age of 44. All this in a career that spans 27 seasons—the most seasons any player has ever played. To list out all of his accomplishments in totality, you’re able to finally see impact that Ryan had on this game.
Let me preface my love for Facing Nolan with, it’s not for everyone. I faithfully watch baseball every season and, right before writing this review, I was checking in on player contract signings. Now if you’re a big baseball fan, then I believe you will love this, because this isn’t just an homage to who Ryan was as a baseball player, it’s a love letter to the game. This documentary couldn’t have come at a better time. With the MLB lockouts having just come to a close, and the new season about ready to start, Facing Nolan is everything you love about baseball.
Directed by: Bradley Jackson