Appreciating Rick Ankiel’s Fall and Rise

rick-ankiel.jpgAs a high school senior in the spring of ’95, I was slated to be our team’s third starter and only southpaw. Unfortunately, I developed a mental block that kept me from throwing the ball anywhere near the plate. Any given pitch was just as likely to go off the backstop or behind the batter as it was down the pipe. It was a spectacle and I was kept off the mound and on DH duty for the disappointing season that was.

Contributing to the embarrassment was that teammates, opponents and classmates didn’t get what was happening. I’d reference Steve Blass Disease, but no one knew who the hell Steve Blass was, so this was comedy, not tragedy. Five years later, along came Rick Ankiel to make everything relative.

He was a phenomenal rookie who fell apart under the glare of October baseball, flaming out with my same affliction and never to be heard from again. That is, until this weekend when he reemerged as a power-hitting outfielder, hitting three home runs in his first four games back with the Cardinals. No one knows how good this must feel for Ankiel, but here’s my attempt to relate …

After graduation, I didn’t step back on the diamond for years. Wondering if I could still play, I joined on with a men’s league team in DC playing doubleheaders every Saturday. Blass Disease still had its grip on me, but I was able to play outfield and hit OK. As the summer wore on, my favorite game was rediscovered. We were a .500 team, I was a .300 hitter and nary a cutoff man was missed. All was right, if a bit uneasy.

Then along came the playoffs, the first game of which came down to our last at-bat. The guy before me blooped a single to tie the score and send me to the dish with the bases loaded. The other team brought in a lefthander and the count ran full. His final pitch was a fastball right in my wheelhouse — down and in — that I turned on and sent over the rightfield fence for a walk-off grand slam and 9-5 victory. I rounded first with a fist pump and came home to a celebration.

This was strictly amateur, a Saturday afternoon beer league, but it was redemption nonetheless and one of the great moments in my life. I write it down here to try and understand the joy Rick Ankiel must know right now. He’s on top of the world yet again, as he should be. Only this time, he can appreciate it. I’m pulling for him, as I imagine we all are.

Update: Awful Announcing suffers from a similar ailment. So this makes not one but two sports bloggers with Blass Disease. Uncanny.

Update No. 2: Noted Ankiel lover Will Leitch was there, man. And, yes, I realize that Ankiel is his.

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