Sunday, August 12, 2007

Rick Ankiel

If you are a baseball fan, how can you not be rooting for Rick Ankiel? With all of the negative things that have been happening in sport, this is the kind of thing that keeps me a fan. If you don't know the story, it goes like this...Once a phenom left-handed pitcher with a mid-90s fastball and a devastating curve, Ankiel was second in the 2000 Rookie of the Year voting with the St. Louis Cardinals. But as quickly as he had success, he endured a legendary bout of wildness in the playoffs that season, throwing five wild pitches in one inning, in front of the entire baseball world, the most since 1890.
The problem got worse in 2001, and he was sent back to the minors. Then he developed an elbow injury, missing almost all of the 2002 season and all of 2003. He made it back to St. Louis briefly in 2004, pitching out of the bullpen, and the control problems seemed to be in the past. Then the wildness returned in a 2005 spring workout, and Ankiel decided he had enough, and started over as an outfielder in the low minors which included a stop in my old home town.
In 2006, he injured his knee in spring training and missed the entire season. But this season, he hit 31 home runs for Triple-A Memphis in 381 at-bats. He arrived in the big leagues on Thursday and was greeted with a standing ovation before his first at-bat. He hit a three-run home run to help the home team win in the seventh, and there was a curtain call.
"I was young and I don't think I understood the magnitude of what was going on,'' Ankiel told the Associated Press Thursday, about his first career as a pitcher. "That seems like a long time ago. It's ancient. I'm a different guy." The following night, he hit two home runs and made a spectacular catch in the outfield.
"I was so young then. I guess we all were.''
Roy Hobbs, the character in The Natural, was also a pitcher and came back as an outfielder years later. He also hit a few memorable home runs. Both are left-handed, too. The similarities pretty much end there, but Ankiel's story is still developing. And we all love an underdog story.
"I set a goal for myself to get back here, so I feel good that I reached it,'' Ankiel told the AP. "I'm looking forward to reaching my next goal, which is staying here.''

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