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Sculptor puts Ryan on pedestal

May 01, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

The world will get its first glimpse of Washington County sculptor Antonio "Toby" Mendez' vision of all-time strikeout king Nolan Ryan when his statue of the pitching great is unveiled today in Arlington, Texas.

The Texas Rangers flew Mendez into town this week for the ceremony to dedicate the 8-foot, 800-pound bronze statue and have given him first-class treatment.

"It's been kind of a dream," Mendez said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon. Mendez said he's walked on the field at the ballpark at Arlington, sat with the team president and watched games from the front row.

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"I've never been that close," said Mendez, who said he was a "pedestrian" baseball fan.

The Texas Rangers will unveil Ryan's statue before today's game against the Boston Red Sox.

Mendez, of Pleasant Valley in southern Washington County, was commissioned to do the Ryan statue last September after a nationwide search.

To make sure details were precise, Mendez met with Ryan for half a day to take measurements and photos, and researched game photos from Ryan's record-setting performances.

Mendez also was given the loan of Ryan's baseball glove, his retirement jersey, and specially made shoes from Nike.

"I made sure I got that back to him as fast as possible," he said. "I feel people won't steal my art but they will steal Nolan Ryan's stuff."

Quirks, such as the fact that Ryan didn't wear Russell brand uniforms like the rest of his teammates, couldn't be overlooked.

"I couldn't afford to be embarrassed and neither could (the Rangers)," Mendez said.

Mendez would not reveal details of the statue. "The only thing I can really say is it's a monument to the man" and not just the player, he said.

"It's really kind of a tribute to him as a human being." he said.

Mendez said he didn't want a generic sports pose or something that would be interpreted as an enlarged trophy.

"It had to be specific to Nolan Ryan. Everybody who's seen it who knows Ryan likes it," he said.

The statue will stand on a cobblestone and granite mound in Vandergriff Plaza behind center field. People will be able to touch the statue. "It's very interactive," he said.

Ryan played for the Texas Rangers from 1989 to 1993. He pitched his seventh and final no-hitter on May 1, 1991.

Ryan, whose number 34 was retired last September, never played in the park where his statue will be displayed. The park opened in spring 1994.

Mendez was honored by the Maryland General Assembly in March for his statue of civil rights champion and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall that stands in front of the Maryland Statehouse in Annapolis. The Marshall statue has helped establish him as a national artist, Mendez said.

Mendez' other sculptures can be found throughout Washington County and beyond, including two sculptures at Hagerstown Junior College and another at Mercersburg (Pa.) Academy.

He also crafted a sculpture honoring Chesapeake Bay watermen in Solomons Island, Md., and several relief panels on the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C.

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