Have you ever witnessed a Major League Baseball no-hitter? I have, and I bet my experience is WAY different than yours.

It was May 1st 1991.  Personalized cassette tape mixes were jammed with Amy Grant’s “Baby, Baby” and Roxette’s “Joyride.”  Major TV networks actually had an audience for sitcoms like Coach, Full House, and Roseanne.  Movie goers were enjoying Silence of the Lambs and Toy Soldiers, while anxiously awaiting the forthcoming releases of Thelma & Louise and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze.  The Chicago Bulls had just secured their first-round playoff victory over the New York Knicks, on their way to defeating the Lakers 4-1 in the NBA Finals a month later.  Footnote: besides Jordan and Pippen, that championship run also solidified names like B.J. Armstrong and Bill Cartwright as legendary instigators of nostalgia. 

With “Go ninja, go ninja, go!” belting through my Sony headphones, I was in Arlington, TX on May 1st 1991.  More specifically, I was at Arlington Stadium, the minor league park-turned-home of the Texas Rangers.  I had successfully traversed Arlington’s obstacle course of chain restaurants, theme parks, and strip-malls to land at the ballpark.  On this night Nolan Ryan toed the rubber for the Rangers, with the incomparable Mike Stanley behind the plate. 

I was only 10 years old, but baseball-conscious enough to know the value of a “0” in the hits column in the 7th inning. The possibility of a no-hitter always seemed possible with Nolan Ryan on the mound.  On this night, the visiting Toronto Blue Jays did have a “0” in the hits column in the 7th.  Indeed, Nolan went on to toss his 7th no-hitter, which is just an unfathomable accomplishment in baseball.  What an amazing sports feat to witness in-person!!!!!!  I was there for it!!!

Except…..I left in the 8th inning.

I will attempt to relive that excruciating moment, so forgive me if I pause on occasion to collect my emotions and take a few bro-pats on the back.  What happened?

Earlier that day, my neighborhood friend’s dad, known hereafter as “the dad,” had acquired tickets to the Rangers game.  Like so many instances in sports fans’ lives, tickets occasionally fall in our laps, which seems to happen less and less these days.  This was the case here.  The dad got the tickets and invited me to go with him and his son.  I was excited for two reasons: Arlington Stadium and Nolan Ryan. 

First, Arlington Stadium.  As a 10-year-old in Fort Worth, TX who loved sports, especially baseball, Arlington Stadium was the mecca.  I loved the Mavericks and Cowboys, but Reunion Arena and Texas Stadium seemed so far away.  It was easier to drive to Arlington from Fort Worth, rather than making the trek across the metroplex to Dallas or Irving.  Something I totally get now. My relative proximity to Arlington Stadium solidified the Rangers as perpetual first-place finishers on my podium of favorite professional sports teams.    

I always had so much fun at Arlington Stadium.  I loved arriving early to snag the Texas Rangers giveaway for the night.  The run-of-the-mill giveaway in the early 90s?  Rangers hat with a Minyard’s logo blazoned on the side.  Disappointment hit hard when I found the Minyard’s or Albertson’s logo on the giveaway hats.  I never wore them.  It wasn’t the “real thing” to my 10-year-old sports-elitist self.  I mean, did Ceclio Guante wear a hat with a Minyard’s logo?  How about Craig McMurty?  Or Gary Mielke?  Nope. If it wasn’t good enough for Craig McMurty, it wasn’t good enough for me.  I love you Minyard’s, if you are still around.  I just don’t want you on my Rangers hat. 

I am NOT showing up to the birthday party at Westcreek Bowl with a fake Rangers hat. Those two hours are reserved for showcasing my official MLB hat and Starter windbreaker, and frowning upon anyone with Logo Athletic gear.

I will always remember walking up the Arlington Stadium tunnels to the sounds of UB40’s “Red, Red Wine” (footnote: my good friend who always brings this up) and John Fogerty’s “Center Field” for the 500th out of what will ultimately be 25,000 times when my life is done.  That stadium used to get so loud from the crowd banging and jumping on the bleachers.  Attending the game also presented the opportunity to see players in-person who I had only known through my extensive baseball card collection.

I could keep going, but I would be committing a crime if I failed to at least mention the dot race.  This was the time when every kid in the stands got out of their seats in the middle of the 6th inning to stare at the jumbotron.  We watched different colored dots bob and bounce around the jumbotron like an Atari game. Each kid waited with great anticipation for the photo finish to see if your dot won, giving you a free bottle of Ozarka from 7-Eleven.  Water.  We were excited to win a bottle of water.  The square piece of paper with the winning dot became currency at 7-Eleven.  But nobody exchanged their new currency for the water because you had to actually walk into a 7-Eleven after the game to get it. 

 I enjoyed every minute at Arlington Stadium.  Well…almost every minute.    

Now to Nolan Ryan.  He was always a baseball hero of mine growing up.  He threw really hard and he was from Texas.  What else could you ask for?  Nolan had a distinct pitching motion and mechanics that continue to draw the attention of biomechanicians.  The large amount of external rotation and lower-back extension in his delivery would give front end offices of the Moneyball era heart attacks. At this point in the early 90s, little league fields across the country, especially in Texas, saw an incredibly high number of high leg-kicks and #34 jerseys.  On this night in 1991, just like every other time he pitched, I expected that iconic pitching profile to produce another no-hitter.

 

I was ecstatic to go to Arlington Stadium to watch Nolan Ryan pitch with 33,438 other fans.  We sat about 12 rows up in the right field bleachers, placing us within shouting distance of Ruben Sierra and Mark Whiten of the Blue Jays.

 

Nolan squared off against Jimmy Key. The initial two innings were pretty quiet, but that changed in the bottom of the 3rd when Sierra hit a two-run homer that scored the fleet-footed Gary Pettis.  Things remained quiet the rest of the game until about the 7th inning, as the crowd started to notice the 0 hits for Toronto.  The Toronto lineup that included household baseball names like Kelly Gruber, Glenallen Hill, and Manuel Lee had not mustered one hit.  The place became electric after every out, especially after a strikeout. 

So here we are in the top of the 8th inning.  Earlier in the game, as the dad realized the increasing size of the crowd, I remember him saying that we would leave sometime in the 8th to “beat traffic.”  I thought he was joking, so I went about my business watching Jack Daugherty and Jeff Huson get in their plate appearances. 

Then, this moment happened….

In very dramatic fashion, Nolan ended the top half of the 8th with a strikeout.  Arlington Stadium was going wild, and I was going to the parking lot. 

To pour salt into my freshly opened wound, here is what happened next:

As we left the stadium, the dad knew exactly what was going on.  He knew it was a no-hitter.  He knew it was baseball history. Understanding we were missing a no-hitter, he then SAT US IN THE CAR, IN THE STADIUM PARKING LOT, AND WE LISTENED TO THE STADIUM REACTION.  After the last out, the incredible roar of cheers came from two directions: the car radio the dad had turned on and the actual crowd noise.  I heard Chuck Morgan on the stadium PA system shouting something along the lines of “Your attention please: Nolan Ryan has just thrown his 7th no-hitter.”  I was so excited, but then opened my eyes to the backside of a front seat and came back to Earth, quickly.  I remember riding home in that backseat, as the dad called a couple people from his bag-phone, bragging about attending the no-hitter.  I even called my parents from the bag-phone to let them know what I (kind of) just witnessed. 

The Dallas Morning News called this no-hitter one of the top 5 greatest moments in Texas Rangers history.  Granted, the bar is kind of low.  But still, I left the game just to sit in the parking lot….but hey, let’s look on the bright side – I used a bag phone!

As I got older, this became the most painful sports memory….until the Rangers lost the 2011 World Series.  Missing out on Nolan Ryan’s 7th no-hitter in the fashion I did is still unbelievable to me.  I will never understand the dad’s decision to leave, but then “witness” the excitement from a car in the parking lot.  Look, I am ALL for beating traffic, but sometimes you just embrace the suck inherently attached to a post-game parking lot.

To all the parents, guardians, youth group leaders, and summer camp chaperones out there: if you are at a baseball game and either team has 0 hits in the 7th inning, stay until there is a hit or the pitcher completes the no-hitter.  There is not a meet-in-the-middle scenario to that situation.  There is no compromising when we are talking about staying for the end of a no-hitter. 

Finally, I know you want it…the lineups from that night

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