Victoria man remembers going up against Nolan Ryan in tournament

Julie Garcia By Julie Garcia

Aug. 28, 2013 at 3:28 a.m.

Ten-year-old Ryan Garcia has only been playing baseball for two years, but his grandfather, Les Garcia, is already dreaming about him breaking into the Major Leagues.

Garcia, 67, played baseball from age 8 until he was about 50 years old, he said. The St. Joseph High School graduate played shortstop and was known around town as "Leslie, the ballplayer."

On Wednesday, Garcia will get a chance to see one of his early pitching opponents - baseball legend Nolan Ryan. Ryan will be the guest speaker for University of Houston-Victoria's A Night of the Jaguars.

Garcia is now known as Les, supervisor of transportation services for the University of Houston-Victoria, father of three, grandfather to more than 10 and great-grandfather of one.

In the summer of 1963, Garcia took the plate against one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in the history of baseball - Nolan Ryan.

In an area tournament that was recorded by the Victoria Advocate, Garcia played for the Victoria VFW against a team from Alvin. Ryan was on the roster as a shortstop and pitcher.

"Nolan Ryan was such a fantastic ballplayer," Garcia said. "That first night at the tournament, we saw him warming up, and we saw how hard he was throwing the ball - we had never seen anyone pitch that hard before.

"We were intimidated," Garcia said.

Garcia struck out three times against Ryan, but he's not embarrassed in the least.

"He's struck out 5,000 batters," Garcia said, smiling. "He was amazing - I had never seen someone of that caliber before where we came from."

The Victoria native played on many championship teams, he said, and saw many pitchers.

"We were in awe (of Ryan). ... You could hear a penny drop. It was almost as if we were defeated before we began," Garcia said.

Though his team lost that game, they continued in the tournament. Victoria VFW met up with Alvin again in the semi-finals and won 6-2.

Three years later in 1966, Ryan was picked up by the New York Mets at the age of 19. His most notable years were in the 1980s as a pitcher for the Houston Astros. His final game was in 1993 when he was nearly 50.

Twenty years later, Ryan is still the leader in strike-outs with 5,174. In the four decades he was in the MLB, he pitched seven no-hitters.

Garcia continued to play baseball around Victoria until he joined the Air Force in the mid-1960s. He was scouted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the middle of his military service and planned to join the team once he was out of the service.

That day never came. During an Air Force baseball game in Arizona, Garcia threw his arm out and never had it properly treated, he said. By the time he saw a doctor, the damage was done.

"I never threw the same again," he remembered. As a smaller guy - at 5-feet, 5-inches tall - he said the scout wanted him based on his speed and arm.

Instead of going pro, he took a job at DuPont where he worked for 32 years.

After his retirement, he received a bachelor's degree from UHV and went on to work in transportation services for Victoria Transit and eventually to lead the transportation and shuttle services for UHV.

Now that his grandson, Ryan, is getting noticed as a select baseball player, Garcia's professional dreams may be attainable again for his family.

About 15 years after batting against Nolan Ryan, Garcia and his teammates, David Martinez and David Ozuna, saw the powerhouse pitching for the Astros on TV.

But the story of his high school-era baseball game is well preserved thanks to his mother. She saved the newspaper clippings from the tournament that lists Garcia's name two columns away from Ryan's.

Having Ryan's autograph in his scrapbook would be a dream, Garcia said.

Garcia recently had another brush with the famous pitcher.

Garcia took his son and grandson to an Astros-Rangers game earlier this month.

He didn't realize when he arrived at Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston that he would see Ryan that day.

Garcia was seated behind home plate, and shortly before the game started, he saw the baseball legend and his family move toward their seats behind the Rangers' dugout.

As Ryan was leaving the game, he passed by Garcia.

"I said, 'Hey, Nolan; we'll see you in Victoria,'" Garcia said. "And he said, 'I'll be there.'"



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