St. Louis Cardinals Achilles....Ankiel?
When the general masses wake up tomorrow, brush off the Olympic dust and chug the best part of waking up, most will not recognize the ever-amazing importance of what August 9th means to the world. Especially, the sports world. And, people should!
The day stands in MLB History-Lore and as inspiration to any dude, or dude'ette, that ever rocked the Doug Drabek glove and stood, stoic, on a mound of packed clay and dirt... then threw a pitch off the back wall, missing the catcher by twenty-feet-high, and to the right. The pitching dream ends in one smash of the window and one, very familiar song - Tell them, Rick Vaughn. Make their heart's, sing!
But, instead of quitting and complaining, you take to the field, playing a mean center and providing decent pop and run production from the left side of the plate. The once discarded raw-talent is turned into something that was deemed nothing, just in a different situation and number on the line-up card. Most MLB historians and keepers of all-things-stats would tell the basic fan, or hopeful, that it is nearly impossible to make it to "the show", twice, playing two different positions. There was Babe, but that was about it. Right?
That's dead wrong, knuckle-ballers!
Tomorrow, August 9, 2012, is the 5-year anniversary of Rick Ankiel making his Major League debut, for the second time, and showing the baseball world that anything is possible. While he currently is teamless and walking the MLB streets in wonder and dismay, there is still a chance Rick Ankiel could contribute to a ball club down the stretch.
It's all about the right timing.
And, If timing is everything, then the Cardinals clock should have just struck "NOW" in the front office. What an interesting twist and way to bring back an important piece, Ankiel, to Cardinals baseball - On the day he was given his "second chance" to play the little boys dream, 5-years previously. Not only would it be a fitting way for Ankiel to go out as a baseball player, but he can also provide the support and left-handed off the bench bat for the Cards - A piece of their playoff-contention puzzle they still need. After the donkey-kick they received tonight by the Giants, the idea doesn't not sound so bad.
The same tutelage he provided to Bryce Harper in D.C. would be a welcomed asset to the younger Cardinals players, and definitely to their young coach, Matheny. Winning coaches like Torre and Cox always put a heavy emphasis on their success deriving from strong-minded leadership by the veterans. While Holiday and Molina have the respect of their team, and the ring to prove it, they are not clubhouse leaders. Ankiel has the same presence, mixed with a hard-shelled work ethic from the craziness he overcame in his career. It could only help.
In order to go from a top-prospect in 99, chucking mid-90's and featuring a lefty-curve that made Zito's look straight, Ankiel was the proverbial blender in the MLB mix. Rookie Pitcher award by the Sporting News in 2000 and a playoff starter by the end of the season. He was on top. Then, he threw a pitch in the playoffs. Twenty, to be exact. Of the twenty, five of them hit the bull. It was a real-life Ebbie Calvin, and just like that, his pitching career was "nuked."
Funny note. I spoke to a pitching coach in the minors that was around during Ankiel's collapse. He claimed Cardinals coaches were trying desperately to rid Ankiel of throwing across-his-body. They wanted to prevent him from strain and injury, yet all they did was mess with his head. Today, pitchers like Jared Weaver have made a career off of throwing across-the -body. The coaches may not like it, but they know better to make a drastic change. Because of Ankiel? Who knows?
Stronger men have quit easier tasks, but Ankiel did not. The guy could still swing a bat and had the arm fitting of an outfielder. Six-years later, he was making a push in the Cards organization as a position player, and doing well. Following success in 2008 and an injury-plagued 2009/2010, he landed a deal with the Royals and a stint with the Braves. He was signed to Washington in 2011 - He had made it back, again - A year and a half later, he was unceremoniously designated for assignment by the Nationals....on his birthday!!
The story is straight out of left-field, literally. Hollywood would be so lucky. All you would need is a crazy Kim Bassinger, the Diabetes Guy and a Robert Redford wig, it would be the real "Natural"...sans a gunshot to the ribs.
What an ending it would be. Rick Ankiel makes his debut, again, for the Cardinals. For the first time, it's the third time...for the last time.