SURPRISE, Ariz. -- With a Texas Rangers logo emblazoned across his chest, Nolan Ryan stares intently toward home plate.
From a much different angle.
Too bad for the Rangers that Ryan is wearing a warmup jacket with slacks and sitting in the front row evaluating the team during a spring training game, rather than being in uniform on the mound intimidating another batter like he did in his heyday.
Nearly two decades after first pitching for the Rangers, the 61-year-old Hall of Famer is back in a new role as team president. And the expectations are much: revitalize a team that has never won a playoff series, and has only one winning season since 1999.
"That might be the organization's best acquisition over the winter," said Rangers bench coach Art Howe, a former teammate of Ryan's in Houston. "He knows the game inside and out, and will be nothing but a positive."
The Ryan Express commanded the mound with toughness, a blazing fastball and an unmatched work ethic that produced seven no-hitters and 5,714 strikeouts over a record 27 major league seasons.
Now, Ryan is in control of the entire Rangers organization, one long plagued by pitching problems. He will oversee everything from evaluation of players and prospects to business aspects such as selling tickets in a market where attendance has dropped.
"We haven't had a lot to be proud of for a while," Ryan said. "We'd like to think we're taking a route that is going to put us in the right direction. . . . I can't go out and say we're going to be competing for a world championship in two years because I don't know that."
Since taking the job before spring training, Ryan has repeatedly mentioned the "learning curve" he faces as a first-time team president.
Instead of making immediate changes, which seem inevitable if Ryan wants to mold a team in his image, he has initially taken a measured approach. Ryan first wants to fully evaluate things, and isn't sure how long that will take.
"If he's not happy with the direction it's going, he'll have the authority to make those changes," said Reid Ryan, the oldest of two sons who are executives for the two minor league teams in Texas their famous father owns. "I like his attitude . . . take a season to evaluate, see what everybody does. Next year, you will see him having more of an imprint."
Nolan Ryan's name is already being associated with everything Rangers, including a recent select-a-seat promotion at the team's ballpark, where he did a question-and-answer session with fans. At the end of spring training games, people crowd toward his front-row seat seeking an autograph.
While all of that is part of Ryan's job, his ultimate goal is to turn the Rangers into consistent winners and playoff contenders. And do to that, he won't be a figurehead president or, as he heard one radio commentator suggest, a "Rangers mascot."
This is much different than the role Ryan had for 10 years after he retired as a player in 1993, when the Rangers used him primarily in a promotional and ceremonial role as he fulfilled a personal-services contract with the team.
"When they hired Nolan Ryan [as president], I was like I don't know if that was a ploy to satisfy the fans or if it's some dedication to winning," partial season-ticket holder Thomas Mooney said after Ryan's ballpark appearance. "He seems to be genuine. . . . When you hear him in person as opposed to a sound bite, I was happy with the answers he gave."
Ryan was always a fan favorite as a player for the Rangers, even though he was already in his 40s when he arrived after nine seasons with the Astros.
It was during his five-season stretch in Texas (1989-93) that Ryan got his last two no-hitters, 5,000th strikeout and 300th victory. His No. 34 is the only jersey worn by a Rangers player to be retired, and there is a statue of him in the center field plaza at the ballpark.
After his personal-services contract expired with the Rangers, Ryan took a similar position with Houston -- and the Astros used him for more than public relations.
Ryan was involved in scouting, worked with pitchers and was consulted about personnel moves and the drafts. The Astros went to their only World Series in 2005.
"He had a lot of equity in that, and I think he really enjoyed it," Reid Ryan said. "He's got a tremendous amount of knowledge and amount of years in the game that I think he's looking to share."
Former Rangers presidents under owner Tom Hicks were primarily business-oriented and had little if any role in baseball operations. While Ryan's a baseball guy first, he's also a cattle rancher and successful businessman, having owned banks and a line of beef products that carry his name.
"We had to decide this would be a better alternative for us than the path we were on," Hicks said. "That was easy when Nolan said he was prepared to commit to it."
For Ryan, the timing and the opportunity were finally right to do something he had thought about since he was still playing.