July 19, Rick Ankiel celebrates 36

The Rick Ankiel story starts off unfortunate, turns happy, then dismal, and finishes uplifting.

Lying, stealing and drugs littered the 11-year MLB player’s childhood. His father regularly embarrassed him and even his own family tree held unknown secrets.

Throughout Rick’s Little League days his father coached him, all the while making frequent trips to jail for drug smuggling and dealing. In total Ankiel’s mother left home after a history of violence.

Ankiel used it as fuel for his baseball career, winning the Player of the Year in Florida. Out of high school, the Cardinals signed the lefty pitcher for a $2.5 million signing bonus.

ja042 At age 20 he took the mound in the National League Divisional Series and finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. Scouts raved about his talent, and Ankiel lived up to the hype.

Until he didn’t.

In the same NLDS against the Braves, he blew up in front of the entire baseball world. His regular season earned him a start in Game one of the playoffs. But his implosion is almost too hard to watch with five wild pitches in the same inning. That tied a record for WP in a single inning that had been in place since 1890.

The wheels completely fell off, but his Cardinals advanced to the Championship Series. Which meant Ankiel had another shot on the mound. It’s almost even tougher to watch.

The same incident unfolded later in the same series.

Baseball had a history of pitchers who completely lost control, as detailed by Pat Jordan.

Then Bruce Weber tried to pin point the exact reason, but how can you pick one thing that starts a snowball of wild pitches and balls?

He laughed it off, he’d been dealt some tough breaks. He just wanted to improve.  But he didn’t. The control issues followed Ankiel to the minors, where he clearly had much better talent. He had bottomed out.

So he started the long journey back to Major League pitching. In 2004 he came back to the mound for the Cards and went to spring training with the team the next season.

Control issues resurfaced and he got cut. Needing to make a change, he turned to the outfield – a place he could still display his plus-plus arm and stay in the game.

A lot has been made about his comeback to baseball. His agent Scott Boras sent him to de-stress in California after the meltdown in 2000. And, though it took a while, it seems Ankiel is less uptight about just about everything.

His numbers didn’t make anybody jump to sign him, but the comeback story did.

Most recently, the Nationals hired him on as Life Skills Coordinator, which Ankiel seems more than qualified for.

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