Rick Ankiel Is The Savior Of Baseball

Only two days removed from an admitted (albeit inadvertently!) steroid user being crowned the new Home Run King, along comes a guy that everyone can really look up to. If you’re any sort of baseball fan, you knew who Rick Ankiel was before he got his call up yesterday. He was a phenom lefty pitcher with a disgusting curve who was going to be the anchor of the Cardinals staff for years to come. Then he crashed and burned in the 2000 NLDS, becoming the first pitcher in a century to throw 5 wild pitches in one inning. At the time, I didn’t realize I was watching the beginning of the end for his pitching career. Nevertheless, it was more painful to watch than an episode of American Idol. Even worse was watching him get pulled in the first inning against the Mets in the NLCS. Even rooting for the Mets, I didn’t want to see the end of what promised to be an amazing career.

Well, for all intents and purposes, it really did turn out to be the end. After years of trying to get his head back on straight and his pitches in the strike zone, Ankiel decided to become a full-time outfielder. He had been a decent hitter, hitting .250 with 2 home runs his first full year in the majors as a pitcher. He was going to attempt to pull a Roy Hobbs. A knee injury last year put a hold on his outfielding career, but this year he was leading the Pacific Coast League with 32 HRs. When Scott Spiezio was quietly dumped off the roster due to having a drug problem, Ankiel was called up to fill the spot, and to provide some great PR.

Little did the world know that they would be treated to yet another moment that Hollywood would be jealous of. As Ankiel went up to bat for the first time, the St. Louis crowd stood up and gave him a rousing hometown welcome. The 20-year-old kid that wowed them 7 years ago was back, only this time he was the one looking foolish at the plate. In his first at-bat he popped up to short, and then looked completely overmatched in his next two at-bats, striking out both times. Even after that, the crowd still cheered more loudly for him than anyone else. And why not? He had seen the end of his dream and still managed to make his way back to the major leagues.

No one could’ve expected that in his fourth at-bat that he would combine Kirk Gibson’s swing and Roy Hobbs’s natural talent to hit one of the most emotional home runs that baseball has ever seen. The entire city of St. Louis must’ve been shaking. Grown men were crying and hugging in the stand. Tony LaRussa is usually the definition of subdued, but even he was running around and yelling as Ankiel rounded the bases. It’s a moment that reminds everyone why baseball is the greatest sport known to man, and helps us forget about the travesty that took place only a few days ago.

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~ by CajoleJuice on August 10, 2007.

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