Reid Ryan was named the new president of the Houston Astros on Friday, and though this marks his first professional foray into the Major Leagues, he's certainly no stranger to the business of baseball.
Prior to assuming the presidency, the 41-year-old Ryan served as CEO of the Ryan-Sanders ownership group that he founded in concert with his father, Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, and businessman Don Sanders (younger brother Reese Ryan has long been part of the organization as well and is currently the CFO). The group, now composed of more than 60 minority shareholders, owns a pair of successful Texas-based Minor League franchises: the Triple-A Round Rock Express and the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks.
Both the Express and the Hooks (Rangers and Astros affiliates, respectively) were established by the Ryan-Sanders Group after being relocated from elsewhere. And both regularly rank at or near the top of their respective leagues in attendance (the Express drew 595,584 in 2012 to lead the Pacific Coast League and place third in Minor League Baseball).
Clearly, Ryan's departure for Houston will create a void in the day-to-day operations of both franchises.
"Obviously, with Reid being the CEO and founder, this leaves a gigantic hole," said J.J. Gottsch, executive vice president of Ryan-Sanders Baseball. "But for the most part, we're going to operate just as we've been doing, because outside of Reid, the organization stays intact. At the end of the season, we'll assess where we are and determine what needs to be changed. But not having Reid there on a day-to-day basis is going to be weird."
It certainly will be an adjustment for Gottsch, whose relationship with Ryan dates back to when they were teammates on the 1993 Topeka Capitals of the collegiate summer Jayhawk League. Five years later, when the fledgling Ryan-Sanders Group was in the process of purchasing the Double-A Jackson Generals with the intent to move them to Round Rock, he was hired by Ryan as the company's first employee.
Some of Ryan's new responsibilities in Houston, like negotiating a long-term television deal, don't have a specific Minor League correlation. But Gottsch maintains that Ryan's past experience will be crucial no matter what the specifics.
"It's a real basic thing. There are certain businesses that you have to have because you have to go to the grocery store or you have to go to the gas station. But no one has to go to a baseball game," Gottsch said. "Therefore, in our business, customer service is vitally important. It's all about building relationships and Reid, more than anybody I've known, he gets that. He knew how to treat people -- be they player, fan or sponsor -- so that every time they were at the ballpark, they felt part of the Ryan-Sanders family. That's such an important thing, regardless of whether it's Round Rock or Corpus Christi or, now, Houston."
Ryan's Minor League background should aid Astros owner Jim Crane with his long-stated goal of owning the majority of the team's Minor League affiliates and, in a fortuitous bit of timing, the team used the occasion of Ryan's introductory news conference to announce it had signed a letter of intent to purchase the Hooks. While the eventual sale should not affect the team's day-to-day operations, it ensures that the Corpus Christi-Houston relationship remains intact for the long term.
"[In Corpus Christi], there are generations upon generations of Astros fans, and if that affiliation was lost, it would not go over well," said Gottsch. "While Ryan-Sanders could always guarantee an affiliation, we couldn't guarantee it would be the Astros. That won't be the case now."
While Ryan won't have day-to-day input regarding the Astros' player personnel decisions, his hiring does increase the chances, however slim, that none other than Rojo Johnson might one day get a big league callup. Johnson (aka comedian Will Ferrell) was last seen at a 2010 Round Rock Express game, drinking a beer on the pitcher's mound before instigating a slapstick brawl that spilled into the outfield.
"Rojo's in a rehab center right now and we still talk to him from time to time," Gottsch said. "We understand that he's making progress, that he's physically fit but needs to get his mind right. You can never count out another comeback, maybe he'll be donning an Astros uniform at some point."