Nolan Ryan (1992)
"The Winning Pitch!"
By: Your Guess is as Good as Mine!
Welcome to the third (and final) installment of Tony's Sports Series! As far as I can tell, there were only ever three made... though, I most definitely could be mistaken. If you know that there are any more of these, please let me know!
Also, if you have any insight as to the creative team for this issue, definitely, please do send it my way!
Gonna do something I haven't done in ages here at the site, once this piece is wrapped up and live, I'm going to throw our three special sports books onto our Collected Editions Page! I haven't added anything to that in well over a year at this point! How exciting, right? Right? Oh well.
Before getting into it, a look into the future: If all goes according to plan today... tomorrow ought to feature a very special piece that I have been chipping away at for a few weeks now. It involves a "Near-DC-Near-Miss"... so, something that DC Comics almost missed out on... it's going to be a fun one, and I can't wait to share it with you!
Til then, however... let's PLAY BALL!
Our story opens at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Tony the Tiger is there with an unassuming gent, who we will come to find out is Major League Legend... and our titular character, Nolan Ryan. They see a disheartened young fella lamenting the fact that he'll never be as good as Babe Ruth... which, ya know, puts him in pretty good company, considering most of the people on the planet will never be as good as the Babe. Tony overhears this sad little monologue, and assumes that the kid is talking about baseball. Uh, ya think? He's kind of walking around the Baseball Hall of Fame... I'm no expert, but it stands to reason that he might just be interested in baseball. The bipedal beast prompts Nolan to chat up the kid to see what might be bothering him. Man, reading this in 2020 makes a scene like this all kinds of shady.
The young fella, Paul, informs Nolan that he doesn't think he'll ever make it in the big leagues because, well, he sucks at hitting. To solve this, Nolan takes Paul around the H.o.F., and points out some Legends of the game who also couldn't hit all that well, but made up for it in other ways.
Paul humors Nolan as he continues his lecture before finally breaking away. Ya see, there's a little game about to start at one of the practice fields... and, even though the big kids will never let him play, at the very least... he can watch. Nolan reports his failure to Tony... but the Tiger
Tony and Nolan walk through the rural farm-laden roads of Cooperstown, while trying to figure out how they might get through to poor Paul. I mean, they're spending a little too much time on this child... it's almost like an obsession at this point. No means No, Nolan. Anyhoo, Tony gives us the quick-and-dirty of Ryan's accolades and accomplishments... for good measure?
The pair finally find Paul. He's tossing a rock at a soda can he'd balanced atop a wooden fence. What a liar! I thought he was going to watch a game at the practice field? I guess maybe he just really wanted to get away from Nolan and his Feral Striped Associate. Anyhoo, after a few throws, Paul manages to SPANNG! the pop-can right off the fence post! He tries again... and goes back to missing. Tony and Nolan are there to cheer him on... insisting that, even though he missed... he's doing Gr-r-r-reat! Maybe if he keeps this up, he can one day be a Pitcher!
Get this... Paul suddenly thinks he's good enough to be in the Major Leagues! Wow, that was a dramatic shift in attitude, wunnit? Nolan quickly steps in to suggest our all-star "hold his horses" for a moment. There's more to Pitchin' than just throwin'... right?
Well, sure... there's definitely more to it than that, silly Paul. If you wanna be an athlete, you gotta start training like one... and what better way to begin a training regimen than with some sugar-saturated cereal! The gang heads over to Paul's house... which is shockingly devoid of adult supervision, and share "part of a complete breakfast" before Tony uses his saccharine-sorcery to manifest a pair of small dumbbells, so Nolan can show off some of his moves.
Then, it's out to the backyard so Ryan can show Paul the three basic pitches... the Fastball, the Curveball, and the Changeup. Ya know, when I was in Little League back in the long ago, we all thought we knew how to throw these sort of pitches... and, I swear we invented like dozens more way to hold the ball before throwing it (usually directly into the dirt in front of our feet).
Once the hand-positioning is established, Nolan goes into proper-form. If you use this page in order to become a Major League Superstar... when it comes time to make your Hall of Fame Induction Speech, please remember li'l ol' Chris and his Infinite Earths helped you out!
Whattaya know, it looks like Paul is a natural! Tony's bouncing around like he's Tigger, patting himself on the back and being all "Toldja so!". They head back to Paul's house, where Nolan tells him to keep practicing... and that he'll check in with him in a week. Well, ya gotta spend Frequent Flyer Miles somehow, right?
Anyhoo, we jump ahead one week... where there's a practice game going on... and, while Paul is given the "thumbs up" to play (after Tony and Nolan vouch for him, anyway), he's tossed way back in Right Field, which feels like the position usually given to the weak link on the team. As the game draws on into the evening, the goofball Pitcher Tommy is called in for dinner, leaving Paul's team short a player.
Nolan steps up and suggests they try Paul as Pitcher... annnnd, nobody's feelin' it. Nolan insists, and, I mean... who's going to argue with a future Hall of Famer, right? Certainly not me. And so, Paul's on the mound... where his mutant pitching power begins to manifest! Holy smokes.
Whattayaknow, Paul and his metahuman pitching prowess wins the day! He strikes out one awkward kid... which, I suppose is more than enough for us to witness his greatness. If this were the Jackie Joyner-Kersee issue, we'd probably be stuck seeing every single pitch he threw! Paul is lauded as an all-time neighborhood great... and is now the most in-demand pitcher on the block.
We wrap up with an epilogue some six months later. Nolan Ryan is enjoying yet another bowl of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes (wow, twice in one issue... you might have a problem, pal!). His sugar-rush is interrupted by the arrival of his good friend, Tony. He shows Nolan the latest Junior High School Sporting Newspaper, which reveals that, in the past half-year Paul Smith has made quite a name for himself! He credits all of his success to Nolan Ryan and Tony the Tiger. Could you imagine crediting a cartoon diabetes merchant for your accomplishments? Jeez, I'm gonna start telling people that my daily-blogging was all thanks to Lucky the Leprechaun.
We close out with Nolan frantically grabbing for his mitt... he's gotta head out to practice, after all... Paul's gaining on him!
Ya know, I was fully prepared to look at all three of our Tony's Sports Series books with all sorts of derision and "enlightened" 2020 sensibilities... but, ya know what? These were all very earnest. If you've been with me for any amount of time, you'll know that I rate earnestness above nearly all else. I think the only thing I put above it is passion.
These weren't created as a piss-take, nor do they feel like they were half-hearted. Sure, we basically got three versions of the same story... and some nice sugary product-placement, but I can't shake the feeling that all involved had their hearts in the right place. Call me naive, call me an idiot... who knows? I feel like sharing messages like "try your best" and "never give up" is never a bad thing.
That said... there really isn't all that much to say about this story in particular. If you've already joined me for Ozzie and Jackie, this is more of the same. It's not bad, and it gets the job done. Art's good too, though I won't even hazard a guess as to who might've been responsible for it!