Being able to adapt to changing circumstances has helped me tremendously -- it has been one of the keys to my success. When I first came up from the minors, for example, I'd dare a hitter to try to handle my fastball. I applied the mentality of a gunfighter to my craft. A guy either had the skill and timing to hit the heater or he struck out.
I don't really think of myself as a gunfighter anymore. The fastball is still my bread-and-butter pitch, and I'll go with it in crucial situations. But I'm much more conscious of location. That's the biggest difference between the Nolan Ryan of 15-20 years ago and the Nolan Ryan of today.
Check my minor-league stats and you'll see I was either striking everyone out or walking them. I had the kind of velocity -- 98 mph with regularity -- that allowed me the luxury of not being so fine with my control. Well, those days couldn't last forever. I now throw 93, 94 mph -- still fast, but not overpowering enough to base all my success on blowing guys away.
I worked long and hard to master the control of my breaking ball and change-up. As my confidence in those pitches improved, I was able to set hitters up, get ahead in the count, and apply strategy instead of sheer force.
Control of the curve and change-up transformed me from being only a fastball thrower to more of a tactical pitcher. I've heard some people say that going to the National League made me a complete pitcher because I couldn't just rely on my fastball. Well, nothing happened in my head to make the change -- that's just a bunch of hogwash. Ten years after I came back to the National League, I'm still getting hitters out with my fastball. If you fall behind in the count you still have to throw your best pitch -- and for me that's the fastball.
It requires incredible concentration to get the location I want on every fastball. I can't let up -- even for a second. Mental discipline and intense focus on what you're doing begins early in a pitcher's day. Before each start I sit in the clubhouse and analyze the other team's hitters. I concentrate on visualizing what I've done in the past to get a hitter out, consider his strengths and weaknesses. I just sort of run through the lineup in my mind; it's a pre-game ritual that reinforces the fact that I'm mentally prepared to pitch effectively.
Once the game gets going, though, all that planning is subject to change. Maybe I can't throw the breaking ball for strikes. Some days it's not going to break as much as I'd expected. Well, I simply have to adjust by throwing more fastballs and change-ups. This is where a lot of young pitchers run into trouble -- they're unable to adjust and end up losing their concentration as soon as things take a turn for the worse.
Copyright © 1991 by Nolan Ryan and Tom House. Excerpted with permission.