Two Life-long Loves Begin
Lynn Nolan Ryan Jr. was born in 1947 in Refugio, Texas. He grew up in Alvin, Texas, where his family moved when he was less than two months old. In 1954, when Ryan was seven years old, he father bought him in his first baseball glove at the local hardware store. "That was one of my favorite memories," Ryan said many years later to Jody Goldstein in the Houston Chronicle. "Getting to go with my dad down to Alvin Hardware and being the last of six kids and getting to pick out, for the first time, anything new for myself and not being a hand-me-down. That was a new experience."
For Ryan, it was to be the beginning of a lifelong love affair with baseball. He joined his local Little League team soon after. To play in the youth league, Ryan told Goldstein, "That was the highest thing you could look forward to as a kid growing up in a small, rural town like that. To go to tryouts and stuff. That was a big event in your life." Ryan was just 15 years old when he first dated the girl who was to become his wife, Ruth Holdorff. She was 13 years old. "I still remember him asking," Ruth recalled years later to Goldstein. "He game up to me and said, 'Do you think your mom would let you go to a movie?"
In high school, Ryan and Ruth were voted by their classmates the Most Handsome and Most Beautiful, respectively. "We love to tease them about that," their son Reese told Goldstein. "We always tell them there must not have been much to choose from." Both Ryan and Ruth excelled in athletics in high school. Ryan played basketball as well as baseball, and Ruth became a state tennis champion.
But although he stood out in athletics in high school, he did not do so well academically. He found out as an adult that he had dyslexia, a learning disability that causes one to misread words. But in high school, "one teacher thought he was stupid and wanted to fail him," Ruth later told Goldstein. "He was a C student, with a couple of D's and F's mixed in. The hardest thing for him was spelling. He also had a slight lisp, and as a result, he was shy in the classroom."
As his high school career progressed, Ryan spent more and more time playing baseball, starting to perfect the pitches for which he was to become famous. "I swear," his high school coach Jim Watson told Goldstein years later, "that ball jumped six to eight inches when it reached the plate." Ryan also developed a reputation for throwing wild balls, often hitting batters—a reputation that was to follow him into the major leagues. Some of his high school opponents even became afraid of batting against Ryan. Said Watson, "Those kids were so scared, they'd swing at anything just to get out of there."