rickstasy

i'm gonna have to leave it to others to capture the magic of the ankiel moment. when i sat down just now to write about it, here's how i began:

how fitting that he hit the home run off a hanging curve --- a mistake pitch. mistakes have defined his career, his whole life, heretofore. the bad choices his father and half-brother made, the ones that landed both of them in prison. the miscalculation by the cardinals, who --- starved for pitching in the late 1990s --- rushed him through the system and ultimately placed him in a situation he wasn't ready to handle. the moment of negligence right before the 2000 playoffs in which mike matheny gashed his hand on a hunting knife, leaving ankiel to throw to an unfamiliar target. the 9 zillion wild pitches. the failed comeback attempts. the injuries. the years wasted.

it seemed like he launched every one of those mistakes over the fence last night --- and maybe some other ones that had nothing to do with him. the cardinals' stand-pat off-season? thwack! the whole steroid era, encapsulated two nights ago by another type of homer --- fraught and troubled --- in san francisco? tock! i bet bud selig would have been proud to witness the homer at busch iii last night; i bet he even would have smiled and applauded . . . .

not a terrible start. but when i read back over the passage, i found it totally unconvincing. i'm just bullshitting, i realized; this is dishonest. it's not how i actually feel. the truth is, i didn't get swept up in the joy last night. it's not that i failed to recognize how special the moment was; i did, intellectually. when he came up, i even interrupted what i was doing (eating ice cream with my kids) to step into the other room and listen to the call. "huge at-bat," i thought; "he needs to come through." of course, it really wasn't such a huge at-bat in game terms --- the cardinals had already scored their insurance run and led 2-0 with 6 outs to go; if he'd stranded the runners, their win expectancy still would have stood above 80 percent. so for any other hitter, it wouldn't have meant that much either way. but for this guy, a lot seemed to ride on the result.

to have him deliver so heroically. . . . . well, maybe the heroic years of my life are over. or maybe i just never got my emotions wrapped up in the ankiel fable, not from the beginning. for those who did, i'm not knocking either you or the fable; on the contrary, i feel very self-conscious about it, like there must be something wrong with me because i don't share the R.A. Experience. erik wrote a really nice post this weekend that captured why this guy generates such deep passion --- "I'm rooting for Ankiel," he wrote, "because I'm rooting for myself." i think erik really nailed it; i think that's exactly how a lot of people feel. but i don't. for whatever reason, i just never bonded with ankiel that way. and that's probably why the tidal wave of ecstasy unleashed by last night's homer --- a surge so intense that even la russa shed his mask and exulted like a winning "price is right" contestant --- felt to me more like a gentle swell in the sea. i got a solid lift out of it, no question. i felt satisfied that a young player passed a big test; happy that a troubled man got to hear the cheers for which he'd waited so long and labored so hard; grateful that a season so fractured by discontent, frustration, and heartbreak finally had a signature feel-good event.

but i did not feel it was a moment of redemption, at least not in any universal sense. personal redemption for ankiel? absolutely; that dude fought through a lot and never gave up; he earned his shot and his moment of triumph. but the rest of the stuff at the end of my abortive post --- the stuff about absolving front-office mistakes and the errant ways of a whole generation of players? uh uh. once i laid it out there, it felt totally wrong. it felt like i shouldn't be dumping that baggage onto ankiel, who already has such a plentiful load to tote. he's not responsible for rescuing the cardinals from 3d-place purgatory or saving baseball from its steroidal sins ---- nor, for that matter, is he charged with alleviating whatever guilt la russa carries over the wreck of ankiel's pitching career, or comforting a clubhouse bruised by yet another personal blow (ie, spiezio's substance-abuse problem). this guy's already been through all that. those are not his problems to solve.

his job is simply to become a good big-league player. if we can look back in 10 years and say he achieved that, i'll share the sense of joy then; i'll choke up, i'll get chills. he's had 4 at-bats in his new life as an outfielder; may he have 4,000 more, and enough special moments like last night's to make it worth all the trouble.

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