I feel badly for Ankiel, pitching coach Dave Duncan, Tony La Russa, and everyone else who so desperately wanted the one-time prodigy to succeed. This isn't how this story was supposed to end. Ankiel was to have won 10+ games in 2005 with a breaking pitch that would drop like the 1929 stock market. This was to be Ankiel's comeback year, but now that all seems to be wishful thinking and a hearty sigh upon reflection of what might have been. There has to be, and probably will be, more to this story that will continue to evolve over time.
If I may be permitted my early theory on the matter, I believe Ankiel finally hit a physical and psychological brick wall. Despite the dismissive tones of the Cardinal coaching staff and others, his continued inability to throw strikes in spring training brought home the truth with a devastating finality. He would never be able to consistently throw a pitch from 60 and 6 with the combination of control and velocity necessary to win major league baseball games.
And with that realization, perhaps Ankiel has achieved that sense that it is time to move on and do something else. He is, after all, know to wield a wicked bat but he has a long way to go to be able to competitively play the outfield and hit big league pitches. This isn't necessarily self-destruction or a melt-down. It is a mature, considered decision that is in the best interests of himself and his team.
While reviewing what others are writing about Ankiel, I noticed a couple of times that he actually seemed relieved to have made this decision and that a huge burden had been lifted from him. Rick Ankiel was smiling today and that makes me believe he may have made the right decision for Rick Ankiel – not for the Cardinals, not for the sports wiriters, not for the fans – for Rick Ankiel. That is reaching deeply down inside and finding oneself.
With this step, the Cardinals may be forced to waive Ankiel. They need another outfield experiment like a hole in the head. If the relationship between the Cardinals, Cardinal Nation, and Rick Ankiel is severed, I and I think the best baseball fans in the world will wish him success wherever he goes and with whatever he does. Ankiel is taking a huge but necessary gamble to keep him close to the game that he clearly and passionately loves, but this sad day shouldn't detract from Cardinal Nation's expectations for a very, very good baseball team.
Friends, I have an announcement to make. Despite what others may say, the sky is not falling and the St. Louis Cardinals will field an absolutely potent baseball team in 2005. Let us not deviate from the main objective here. We all knew the outcome of the Rick Ankiel story was uncertain, but we all know for a fact that this is a solid baseball team from top to bottom.
Relax. Take a deep breath. Look to the east to see that the sunrises are still coming over the Atlantic Ocean and warmly illuminating Jupiter, Florida. Rick Ankiel's decision is quite a story, but it is not THE story. We won't know how that ends until October. That's the story I'm waiting for. This team has everything it takes to bring the 2005 World Series trophy home to Busch Stadium just in time for the wrecking ball. That is the goal, and that is the real story. Stay with it, don't get too distracted in all this, and enjoy the ride.
You can write Rex Duncan at email@example.com