It seems like the Metroplex is the place for me to be when sports records are broken.
I was there in Texas Stadium when Emmitt Smith became the National Football League’s all-time leading rusher, and I was in Arlington Stadium 25 years ago today when Nolan Ryan recorded his 5,000th strikeout.
I was fortunate enough to be a guest of the then-Alvin Sun sports editor.
He wanted me to write a few postgame stories about the all-time strikeout king.
Heading into the game, Ryan needed six strikeouts to reach that historic milestone, and by the top of the fifth inning he had struck out five Oakland Athletics players.
The first to strike out was Jose Conseco, with Dave Henderson, Tony Phillips and Rickey Henderson next in line to also join the fan club.
Ron Hassey followed in the third inning and took a called third strike to be victim No. 4,999.
So, the historic moment was at hand, and from my center-court seat from the press box behind home plate, I was blinded by the flashes from fans hoping to catch the inevitable on film.
In the fourth inning, Terry Steinbach and Walt Weiss both faced 3-2 counts, but each avoided making their way into the record books by walking and grounding out, respectively.
Up stepped Henderson one more time to lead off the fifth.
Henderson, the great contact hitter that he was, worked the count to 3-2 and fouled off two more pitches before Ryan reared back and breezed a low, 96-mph fastball past the swinging Athletics outfielder.
“I didn’t want to walk Rickey Henderson, so I went with the fastball,” the 42-year-old Ryan said afterward. “If somebody asked me before the game what pitch I would throw, it would have been a fastball. That’s my bread-and-butter pitch.”
Jokingly, Henderson had asked Texas Rangers catcher Chad Kreuter if he was to somehow be the record-breaker if he could he walk the ball out to Ryan.
“(Kreuter) wouldn’t let me,” Henderson said, adding, “I don’t think nobody could have hit that pitch. (Ryan) got me on the best pitch he threw. Nobody in baseball can do what he’s doing.”
As expected, the sellout crowd of 42,869, the second largest in the Rangers’ first 18 years in Texas, went berserk with a 1 minute, 25 second standing ovation.
But as humble as Ryan was, the game quickly resumed when he stepped on the mound and started pitching again after acknowledging his teammates and fans with two tips of the cap.
“After the game, (Ryan) told me, ‘It had to be somebody, but I’m sorry it had to be you,’” Henderson said.
Ryan talked to the press afterward, but I was still hoping to get the reaction from the Athletics, so we headed for their locker room below. However, no one was around except Henderson.
I don’t remember the exact words, but I asked him how it felt to be strikeout No. 5,000.
Without any hesitation, Henderson responded that he was honored.
“As Davey Lopes says, ‘If (Ryan) ain’t struck you out, you ain’t nobody,’” Henderson said.
I happened to have a baseball in my briefcase and asked Henderson if he would sign it.
With a big smile, Henderson graciously granted my wish. No striking out there.