If you’re much of a baseball fan you’ve heard of Rick Ankiel. A few years ago, Ankiel was a flame-throwing pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, touted to be in the Cardinals rotation for years to come, But then, he lost his mojo. He missed home plate as often as charter members of the Anorexia Club. He suddenly could no more throw a pitch to his catcher than Sam Brownback could seriously pitch his agenda to the Gay Alliance. Seriously, it was awful. Unless you are a die-hard Cub’s fan, you had to feel sorry for the guy. A young man destined for stardom suddenly saddled with ‘Steve Blass disease’
He kept trying to make a comeback, but the moment he hit the mound his ability to pitch deserted him faster than comedy club dates for Michael Richards. I saw him once in Memphis on approximately his third comeback. Even in the warm-ups he could barely get the ball to the catcher. In the actual game, he walked the first two batters, hit the third batter, threw a couple of wild pitches, walked the fourth, fifth and sixth batters before being mercifully relieved. I really thought I was present at the end of Ankiel’s career.
But, not so fast, Mr-know-it-all…Ankiel was always a really good hitter. Not just ‘a good hitter for a pitcher’, but a man who knew that the bat was something more to flail three times per plate appearance hoping that the club would accidentally make contact with the ball.
So, Ankiel gave up his dream to be a pitcher, and started working in the outfield at pretty much the lowest level of the minor leagues. He was able to make the throws from the outfield without a batter unwittingly taunting him. He continued to hit. For two long years, he worked his way through the minor league system back to the major league squad.
Last night in his debut for the parent club – the Cardinals, Ankiel started in right field and in a twist way too corny for the movies, hit a home run. Not a dry eye in the house from what I read.
Here’s to the folks who don’t give up. Here’s to their hero – Rick Ankiel. May his career continue to be storybook.