HLG’s Burt meets ‘The Ryan Express’
By Susn Honse
February 3, 2004
HANNIBAL — “It was a once in a lifetime experience," said Woodrow Burt, president, Hannibal-LaGrange College . “I’m grateful that I had it."
In May while visiting family in Houston , Texas , for a nephew’s high school graduation, Burt had the chance to glance at the front cover of The Houston Chronicle. On the front cover there was an advertisement for a contest sponsored by the Nestle Company’s Baby Ruth candy bar. The winner had the chance to spend a day with the famous retired baseball pitcher, Nolan Ryan. Nicknamed “The Ryan Express" because of his 100 mph fastball, Ryan holds 48 Major League Baseball records and struck out a phenomenal 5,714 batters in only 5,386 innings. He has also struck out eight father-and-son combinations, 12 sets of brothers and 27 members of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. He also holds the record for most no-hit games pitched: seven.
“If the contest had been for any other athlete, I wouldn’t have even bothered entering," Burt recalled, “but I have been collecting Nolan Ryan memorabilia for 20 years."
To be eligible for the contest Burt submitted a one-minute video on his Nolan Ryan memorabilia that he has collected over the years. After submitting it to Nestle, the video was put on the website online and people could go and vote for the one that they thought was the best candidate to win.
“I want to thank the many HLG students and their families who went online throughout the summer who voted for me to win the contest," he said.
Burt was lucky to be one of 10 to win out of about 140 entries.
His wife, Katherine, an English professor at HLG, seemed to think one of the reasons he won was because “he was more a Nolan Ryan fan, not just a baseball fan in general."
Each of the 10 winners got to have an individual picture taken with Ryan along with a group shot. Each person got to bat against Ryan as well, with Ryan throwing each one three pitches. But Ryan, known also for his wild pitches, threw five to Burt. Of the five, he fouled-off two of them.
“I put one in the seats, but the seats were behind me," he quipped.
“It was fun to see him relaxed in an atmosphere he enjoyed," Katherine said. “It was an unexpected blessing."
Later that night everyone came back to Dell Diamond Field, where they had dinner in the upper deck before seeing a minor league game featuring the Roundrock Express, a team co-owned by Ryan and his son, Reid.
The Burts had the opportunity to sit and talk with Ryan his family for about 30 minutes. They discussed how Ryan was enjoying retirement and how he is busier now than when he was pitching in the majors. They also discussed construction of the ball field and the new Roland Fine Arts Building at HLG. They felt throughout the night that Ryan and his family were humble and gracious. Ryan wasn’t carried away with all the fame and seemed very family-oriented.
Later that night after the game the Nestle Baby Ruth people gave Burt the bat he used against Ryan. It was autographed. He was also given a couple shirts, a cap, and a picture – all autographed by Ryan.
One the best things, Katherine said, was seeing her husband bat against the legendary Ryan.
“It was a thrill," she said.