The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX

Sports

November 5, 2012

Catching up to a Hall of Fame pitcher

GREENVILLE — The Greenville Independent School District superintendent grew up in the same town as one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history.

Don Jefferies said he has known Nolan Ryan since the two were kids in Alvin, Texas.

“We both went to Alvin High School,” Jefferies said.

The two will have a chance next week to catch up on old times.

Ryan, who earned a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame as a pitcher before becoming the current principal owner, president and CEO of the Texas Rangers, is scheduled to appear in Greenville on Tuesday, November 13.

Jefferies, Ryan and both their wives all hailed from Alvin, although Jefferies admits he was from the country while the others were from the town. Jefferies graduated from the high school in 1966, a year behind Ryan.

“He was a fantastic pitcher back then, and just a great athlete,” Jefferies recalled, noting Ryan also excelled at basketball.

Jefferies went on to become principal of Alvin High School from 1985 to 1993, where Ryan had enrolled his own children.

“He wanted them to have a similar experience to what he had in school,” Jefferies explained. “They were great kids, excellent students.”

Ryan and his wife Ruth were big supporters of the Alvin schools. When the new library opened in the new high school in the early 90s, Ryan’s autobiography, “Throwing Heat” was the first book put on the shelves. Jefferies said the district’s entire student population was involved in the event.

“We took all 2,500 students and lined them up,” Jefferies said, with the line stretching from the old library on one campus across the district to the new library. “We passed his book to each student, hand to hand.”

Someone even went so far as to contact the Guinness Book of World Records about the feat.

“They said they didn’t have a category for that,” he said.

Years later, Jefferies was invited to be a part of the hoopla when the California Angels were set to retire Ryan’s jersey.

“One of the things he said he wanted to do was establish a scholarship at Alvin High School,” Jefferies said.

The scholarship was for $1,000 a year for 30 years.

“And it was an academic scholarship,” Jefferies said.

Jefferies and his family received tickets to the game, which was ironically against the Texas Rangers, and also get to sit with then-Angels owner Gene Autry in his private box.

“I got to eat breakfast with Bobby Valentine,” Jefferies said. The family also received three-day passes to Disneyland. “That was pretty cool.”

It has been a few years since Jefferies and Ryan have spoken.

“I don’t travel in the same circles he does,” Jefferies explained.

He still occasionally sees Ryan’s children when catching a Round Rock Express game.

But Jefferies already knows exactly what to expect from Ryan’s visit.

“Nolan is a very ‘what you see is what you get’ kind of guy,” Jefferies said.

Ryan’s appearance is being presented by the Greenville Chamber of Commerce. SouthWest Auto Mall Ford Buick GMC is the sponsor for the catered luncheon, which starts at noon, with a VIP reception at 11:30 a.m., inside the Roy Q. Traylor Athletic Complex at Greenville High School.

The event is strictly a question and answer program and Ryan will not be signing autographs.

Anyone wanting additional information, or who is interested in becoming a sponsor or a VIP, can contact the Chamber at 903-455-1510 or visit the Chamber’s website at www.greenvillechamber.com.

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