Rising from the minors to the majors is a path well traveled for players, managers, umpires and even play-by-play announcers. But for those working behind the scenes of a minor league operation, making the leap to run a team in the big leagues simply isn't done very often.
That is one of the reasons so many around the sport have been singing the praises of Reid Ryan, the longtime operator of the Round Rock Express (Pacific Coast League) and Corpus Christi Hooks (Texas) who was hired by the Houston Astros as president of business operations in May.
Not only had one of their own made it, but the right one did.
"Based on Reid's experience and talent, I'm not surprised," Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Conner said. "Based on his connection to the Houston organization historically, it's not a surprise. I think he'll do a very good job and I think (Astros owner) Jim Crane has found himself a good man."
What Crane has found is a person who helped build two organizations from the ground up by placing an emphasis on customer service and ballpark experience. It is a skill set that understandably appeals to the Astros, a franchise trying to rebuild its talent on the field and its image in the community. Ryan, 41, replaces George Postolos, who resigned after just 18 months on the job and amid criticism of alienating former players, failing to solve the team's local television fiasco that has left a significant portion of its market blacked out, and adding signs at Houston's Minute Maid Park that obstruct the view of the train that runs beyond the outfield wall.
And while Ryan acknowledged during a late-night interview after a hectic first two days on the job that he did not have to deal with some of these tasks in the minors, the overall people and business skills he developed while running two teams, and a lifelong connection to the majors, prepared him for the job.
"There are some things that we didn't deal with in the minor leagues," Ryan said in a telephone interview. "But it is odd, because people are excited about me being here and I think it is because I know the history of the organization. I've lived it with my dad playing here. But I also know the future because I've run (the Astros' Double-A affiliate in) Corpus Christi. I'm sort of the guy who can bridge the old school with the new school."
Ryan has stressed the need to put fans first in Houston, a philosophy he embraced while serving as president and CEO of Ryan-Sanders Baseball. He broke into the game when he partnered with his father, Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, to purchase the Texas League's Jackson Generals and move them to Round Rock in 2000.
Reid Ryan had a hand in nearly every aspect of the operation and grew into an industry leader, serving on the National Association's board of trustees, the executive committee of the Pacific Coast League and the board of trustees representative for the Baseball Internet Rights Co. He oversaw the construction of the Dell Diamond—the ballpark whose unique features would serve as a model for many to come. The Express shattered the Texas League's attendance record in its debut season by drawing 660,110 and would go on to break that mark in each of the next four seasons before making the jump to the Pacific Coast League in 2005.
"Without Round Rock, a lot of things that developed around minor league baseball, and particularly in the Texas League, might not have occurred, because people saw what was possible with the kind of facility they built," Texas League president Tom Kayser said. "The stadiums that followed, some are direct progenitors of Round Rock. And Reid had a lot to do with that, to see that ballpark designed and later Corpus Christi."
That success continued when Ryan-Sanders purchased the Edmonton Trappers in 2003, moved Round Rock into its spot in the PCL, and launched Corpus Christi in the Texas League. It also brought the responsibility of running two franchises, a lesson both Ryan and PCL president Branch Rickey believe will serve him well while trying to revitalize the Astros. Rickey said Ryan's minor league experience taught him the patience required when running a big league club.
"They realized that the responsibility of running two franchises was a big financial undertaking and Reid felt that they had overpaid for the Edmonton franchise," Rickey said. "Now that they have been in it for a few years, he had a chance to watch the Round Rock asset grow and flourish with a lot of hard work and see it turn from what may have been a large investment at that point into something worth a lot more.
"So the point is that I think he has had a very valuable lesson in how it can take a lot of hard work and take some time for a baseball asset to mature and unfold into the potential it has to become."
Ryan is not alone. That is a point O'Conner stresses when discussing the significance of Ryan's promotion—that there are more where he came from.
"It is a neat event to have one of our senior executives move up to those ranks. Absolutely," O'Conner said. "But there are any number of people who are capable and qualified to what Reid is going to do. And that's not a slight to Reid. It's not like we lost our one and only star. We've got a lot of really good executives in our ranks and Reid is indicative of who is operating in our ranks."
"The minor leagues give you the basics of what it is all about," said Ryan, who noted that former employees in Round Rock and Corpus Christi and had moved on to work in the majors and other professional sports. "I think folks who have minor league experience have a much deeper and wider range of knowledge. And I am biased for people in the minor leagues. In the minor leagues, you literally have to do it all."
In addition to introducing Ryan at the press conference, Crane announced that the Astros reached an agreement to purchase the Corpus Christi franchise. Ryan said he saw this as an opportunity to secure the two teams' future together—a connection he described as important to Hooks fans. Ryan said that his brother Reese will take over as CEO in Round Rock, and that Ryan-Sanders has no intention of selling the Express, currently a Rangers affiliate.