Halos On Film: The Ryan's Hope Express

Hollywood: a town that has had a long tradition of taking the stars and landmarks of our national pastime and blowing them up to silver screen proportions, albeit with large, Tinseltown-sized doses of embellishment and grandeur. Baseball and the big screen(and sometimes small screen) have undoubtedly played a large role in our love affair with the game, whether it's aim is to make us cheer, cry and/or laugh. For the most part, Hollywood's eye has been trained on those teams that us Angels fans have probably grown tired of by now: the Yankees, the Dodgers, the Red Sox, etc. Sometimes overlooked, however, are the times when Hollywood got it right; when they fixed their gaze south, past Dodger Stadium, and upon the Angels players and the ballpark they call home. This series is about the times we got to see OUR team represented, the times we got to see OUR guys or OUR stadium. It is sometimes amazing. It is sometimes awful. It is sometimes bizarre. But it's also the Angels. And this is Halos On Film.

In this installment we look back to 1975, when then-Angels ace Nolan Ryan appeared on the burgeoning soap opera Ryan's Hope. It was a curious guest star turn, as a soap about the trials and travails of a New York, Irish Catholic family, centered around their family owned bar, seemed about as natural a fit as Paul Lynde doing commentary for a UFC match. Regardless, Nolan Ryan woodenly filled the shoes of "soap actor" for a couple scenes, the result is something I'm sure the Texas native would rather soon forget. But I'm here to trudge up that performance and get a silly and odd snapshot of an all-time Angel great readying for his close-up.

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For the uninitiated(or for those who weren't alive in 1975...or for those that were alive in 1975 but had jobs), Ryan's Hope was a soap opera based on the fictional Ryan family. In a nutshell, the Ryan's were an Irish Catholic family living in upper Manhattan, near the bar that mom and pop Ryan owned. The Ryan's had some independent, adult children who still lived in NYC and, of course, got into all sorts of trysts and hot water with members of the opposite sex. If you've ever seen a soap opera, just imagine the one you're familiar with, but now most of the people have the last name of Ryan. Now you are familiar with Ryan's Hope.

In the scene we're starting with, we see one of the Ryan daughters, Mary(or Captain Janeway, as she is now known), in the hospital where her brother works, and she's found some stray pediatric patients and is forcing them to go back to their ward. At this point, an elevator door opens and we see our man, Nolan Ryan, exit. Mary is actually oblivious to who it is that just appeared, but one of the kids she is with promptly lets her know by exclaiming "That's Nolan Ryan!" She says something like "You know? I think you're right!" Obviously, she's lying. She had no clue and now she's just trying to look cool. So there's Nolan, and he's at the hospital to have his extremely tight Bike shorts surgically removed from his thighs. Or at least that was my guess. We actually find out that he's there for a mysterious knee injury, and at this point Nolan displays some amazing method acting by doing exactly what people who have hurt knees do in real life: he limps a bit, says his knee hurts, then sits down and reads a magazine. As famous acting teacher Stella Adler once said, "Your talent is in your choice." Nolan is making decisions here that not only show us how tight his shorts are, but also that he's a beaten hero; a modern day gladiator sadly limping into the infirmary,and by doing so he's saying "I can't do this on my own." I'd be shocked if Daniel Day Lewis didn't research this clip when preparing for that doozy of an opening to There Will Be Blood, when he breaks his leg out on the desolate, desert plain and crawls back to civilization.

Part of me believes this scene to also be some sort of commentary on the health care system in the United States. Notice how he is not asked for insurance or paperwork to be filled out, he's just told to sit down and a doctor will see him. Does Ryan's Hope take place in some sort of alternate history New York? And where did this knee injury come from to begin with? And what's with the bulge in his shorts? We don't get any real answers on the alternate history theory, or the Bike short bulge. But some light IS shed on how Nolan got that hitch in his step.

So now for the meat and potatoes of Nolan Ryan's short-lived soap career. We find ourselves back at the Ryan bar, where Mary is telling her story of meeting pitching great Nolan Ryan at the hospital. We find out that Nolan was there after injuring his knee in a basketball game with some random kids. I don't know how much of a stretch this actually is, as I personally can't fathom Nolan Ryan playing basketball, let alone in a spontaneous street ball game. For the sake of entertainment, though, I will suspend my disbelief to the point where I'm imagining him going one-on-one with Earl "The Goat" Manigault at Rucker Park when his knee blew out during a two handed reverse jam, from the free throw line! Anyway, Mary is in the middle of her Nolan Ryan story and how talking about how beautiful she thinks he is(I think she means beautiful in a young Jim Nabors sort of way...if such a thing exists), and how he's a "fastball pitcher", and who should walk in, but Nolan "The Express" Ryan himself! He has come by the bar to thank Captain Janeway for devising a plan to get him out of the hospital without anybody finding out he injured his knee in a non-baseball incident. This type of story would piss off Dick Williams, the Angels manager at the time, to no end. Don't believe me? Just look how scared this huge, crazy looking Irish dude got when the name "Dick Williams" is mentioned. Dick Williams would've gone nuclear.

So Nolan Ryan, at long last, gets to meet a portion of the Ryan family. Turns out, the Ryan patriarch is a big Nolan Ryan fan, and has a sad, morbid connection to the Angels ace: on the day he was traded from the Mets, a wake was being held at the bar. Geez, depressing much?! Why would you even tell this to a famous baseball player, unless you want to creep him out?!Papa Ryan called it "the worst trade of the century." Nolan said he wouldn't go that far. Things get more awkward once Nolan begins to get grilled on where his family is from, down to his great grandfather. The Irish Ryans are saddened at hearing that Nolan and his family are all Texas. Papa Ryan is convinced they are related somewhere down the line, even if they'd have to go back eons to figure that out. I assume if Ancestry.com had existed in 1975, Nolan Ryan would've been sequestered in a back room until this could all get sorted out. But alas, this tactic of telling Nolan that he's Irish until he finally capitulates doesn't work out. But you can't blame them for trying. The Irish are into roots like that.

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Nolan basically has enough of these crazy, drunk Irish people at this point, and he bails. And with that, he also bailed on what I'm sure would have been an insanely prolific soap opera acting career. Sure, his performance in this was as stiff as you'd expect from a dougheyed Texas boy in front of some cameras on a soundstage, but the first few times you do anything can be quite nerve racking. I'm sure he felt the same way about his first couple no-hitters. I guess in the end it all ended up better for us Angels fans, because that meant we got to enjoy him for a few more years, and watch him turn into less country rube, and more proto-troll...little known fact, but he was the first person to ever joke about the "Los Angeles of Anaheim" name, a jab at Angels fans and front office that has now become a staple to hackey sports writers everywhere. After leaving southern California, he went far from the reaches of the world of acting, to the state of Texas. He spent his remaining MLB years with Houston and Texas, and his remaining acting years schilling for Whataburger and Advil. But at least we'll always have Ryan's Hope to look back on fondly, and remember The Express when he was ours, before we are thrusted back to the present where the Angels are battling the Texas Rangers and Ryan's hope is now less an old soap opera, and more something we saw destroyed by the St. Louis Cardinals last October.

****Bonus Nolan Ryan Footage****: This past weekend, Nolan Ryan visited Angel Stadium for the first time in 19 years. He was there with his Texas Rangers club, but was also on hand to accept his Angels Hall of Fame ring. Now, we know of all of the exploits he had with the Angels, most notably the no hitters he threw for the club. But I'd like to use this little bonus Youtube action to shed some light on one of Nolan Ryan's lesser known feats: Throwing a no-hitter against the Ansbach Angels while he was pitching for Tropical Heat. Everyone, please watch this and gaze upon one of the most riveting, and little known, passages in Nolan Ryan's sterling career. Also, gaze upon some of the coolest dudes of all time.

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