ALVIN, TEX. -- You won't find any buildings named for this small town's hero. There are no billboards touting his celebrity, few bumper stickers, and there's never been a parade in his honor. The four-block-long street named for him doesn't even have any signs.
Nolan Ryan, and Alvin, Tex., wouldn't have it any other way.
Ryan, the unassuming, Texas country boy who, at age 43, throws no-hitters through back pain and holds baseball's all-time strikeout record, will seek his 300th victory Wednesday night against the New York Yankees.
He grew up in and still lives in Alvin, an unassuming country town which now finds itself caught between its frontier past and the urban sprawl of Houston, 20 miles away.
If a town can reflect a man's personality, or visa versa, then Alvin, population close to 20,000, and Ryan are very much alike.
It's a town where the churches outnumber the lawyers in the phone book, 24-21. City hall is one of the few two-story structures, many of the downtown stores are boarded up and the Wal-Mart out on the highway bypass thrives.
And Alvin is a town where the people, and the businesses, seem to always be on a first-name basis.
There's Ken's Auto Repair, Clem's Paint and Body, Jerry's Appliances, Scotty's Florist, Jodie's Hair Center, Robert's Cafe, Ted's Phillips 66, Barbara's Hair Masters, Frank's Furniture and Jim's Jewelry.
At Joe's Bar-B-Q, run by Ryan's high school chum Joe Saladino, you won't find a Nolan Ryan Over-The-Plate Special on the menu, because to folks in Alvin, Nolan's just a neighbor.
"I thought about putting him on the menu, but it just wouldn't seem right," Saladino said. "When he comes in here, he's just like another person. He'll sit at this table and we'll say, 'Howya doing? How's your cows?' "
"Making a big deal out of him might spoil that."
Elsewhere, everyone's making a big deal of Nolan Ryan. Fans mob him at Arlington Stadium and on the road. President Bush calls him up for golf dates. He ducks in and out of hotel back doors. Collectors say his autograph, baseball cards and other memorabilia have soared in value the last two years. Texas Republicans want him to run for office.
To Ryan, not being a big deal in Alvin is one of the attractions of staying in his hometown. When he's home, he works his ranch and frequents his children's athletic contests, sitting in the bleachers without being hounded for autographs.
"It's the town I grew up in. I'm very comfortable there. It's certainly not the most attractive place to live, but I'm comfortable there," said Ryan, 7-4 for the Texas Rangers this year.
"It's flat prairie-land. There's nothing pretty about it. When people see it they wonder why I stayed there. But it's home. That's the best way to explain it," he said.
For years Alvin has resisted pressure from Ryan's teams and fans for celebrations honoring accomplishments, such as this season's record sixth no-hitter or last season's 5,000 strikeout mark.
But now there is talk of a Nolan Ryan Day, and there are committees studying a Nolan Ryan Museum, which in typical unassuming, low-key fashion may be combined with a community center, police station and jail.
"We're trying to come up with something to recognize him," said one of Ryan best hometown friends, Carl Gerjes, a director of the Nolan Ryan Historical Foundation. "It's not that we don't love and respect the guy; we do. We just want to do it where everyone feels comfortable, most importantly Nolan."
"If we have a day to honor him it's got to be hot dogs, soft drinks and Blue Bell ice cream in Alvin, Texas," Gerjes said. "Who's going to pay $1,000-a-plate for a dinner here?"
Gerjes has even made a trip to Cooperstown, N.Y., not to stake out Ryan's certain place in baseball's Hall of Fame, but to gather ideas for a museum.
"We don't have a Nolan Ryan statute. We don't have a billboard that says this is Nolan Ryan's home. I don't think he likes a lot of fanfare and undue attention, and everyone here knows that and respects that," said city attorney J. Kay Gayle.
Besides, Alvin is an unassuming kind of town that would be just as uncomfortable with a lot of splash as Ryan.
"People like for it to be a fairly provincial, small-town atmosphere here," she said. "There's no push to become a Houston suburb, or one of those master-planned communities."
At a Christmas party to support Alvin's hospital, Ryan was introduced to one of the doctors.
"The doctor told us what his specialty was, osteo-something," Gerjes said. "Then he turned to Nolan and asked, 'What do you do, Mr. Ryan?' "