It’s a recent weekday afternoon, and Reid Ryan is settling into a table at Southwell’s burger joint off I-10 and Echo Lane. Although the Astros president—since May—has just spent a long day promoting the team in his hometown of Alvin, Ryan, ever charming and affable, doesn’t seem tired as he orders a Diet Coke.
That’s because, as he puts it, his job is a dream come true. We don’t normally buy such a self-assessment. Then again, the guy’s first job was as Astros batboy. Still, dream job? Running the Astros? “I grew up here,” says. “This is my hometown team.” Prior to his latest gig, Ryan was CEO of Ryan-Sanders Baseball, which owns the Corpus Christi Hooks, an Astros AA farm team, as well as the Round Rock Express, the AAA affiliate for the Texas Rangers. The Ryan in Ryan-Sanders, you should note, refers to both Reid and his father, Hall of Fame pitcher and former Astro Nolan Ryan.
Once the laughingstock of baseball, the Astros farm system, including the Hooks, is now considered one of the best. The Astros’ president is likely only the first of many guys the team will eventually call up from the minors.
With his polished looks and just-right amount of southeast Texas drawl, Ryan, 42, appears perfectly suited for the role of baseball executive. Still, he’ll need all the charm, energy, and know-how he can muster to pull the Astros out of this historic low point, make no mistake (and we doubt you will). “Change is tough,” is all Ryan will say. “And when you don’t win, it makes it that much tougher.”
The Astros’ dismal performance the last three seasons isn’t his only obstacle. There’s also the team’s unpopular move to the American League, as well as a TV deal that excludes viewers without Comcast. Without star players like Lance Berkman and Hunter Pence they can latch onto, and faced with a roster of no-name journeymen and bargain-basement youngsters, fans continue to defect.
Needless to say, Ryan has big plans to change the culture of the franchise. His Southwell’s stop, he tells us, comes smack dab in the middle of a 7-day, 31-city pre-season caravan through Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma, the most ambitious in Astros history. The hope is to drum up support for the team and bolster fans’ spirits by any means necessary, including creating an Astros Hall of Fame.
As for the team itself, it’s undergoing a complete restructuring, spearheaded by Jeff Luhnow, who was hired as general manager two years ago and is widely considered one of the brightest minds in baseball. “This is a decade-long turning of the ship,” explains Ryan, “putting it on a path for long-term success.”
We want to believe him, of course, and in lieu of star players, choose to focus on Ryan’s statements, like this one about the Astros farm system and the Hooks in particular: “I know how much talent is coming.” Something else offers some hope, too: the possibility of Ryan senior coming on board (as of press time, he was still in talks with the team). “I would be an idiot not to try and get him over here,” says his son.
Reid Ryan glances up, spies a neighbor walking into Southwell’s—he now lives in Houston full-time—and gives her a wave, flashing his trademark charm before getting back to the business of baseball and his dreams for the team, which, it turns out, go way beyond simply turning it around. “I want us to be the gold standard of not just baseball but sports,” he admits. “I want people to say the Houston Astros do it right.”