I’ve had a somewhat tumultuous relationship with Rick Ankiel as a fan. That’s not saying much given his ups and downs; almost everyone has ridden the highs and lows vicariously with Rick. I’ve alluded in the past to my current ambivalence towards Ankiel but I’ve never really spelled out the why of it.
Rick Ankiel emerged towards the tail end of what I’d label the formative years for my baseball passion. I’d always liked baseball. Like most kids, I’d played in little leagues and throughout my younger years. Like most kids, I wasn’t particularly good but I still enjoyed it. What’s always struck me as odd is that I’m still not sure why I liked watching baseball as a kid so much. My father wasn’t particularly enamored of the sport – in fact, my enjoyment of the game over the last 5-10 years has probably sparked his more than vice versa. Whatever the case, I was hooked from an early age.
Ankiel’s fantastic pitching season in 2000 (175 innings, 3.50 ERA, 194 Ks) was just plain fun to watch. He was heralded as the next great lefty and he was so young. He was sure to be a fixture of the Cardinal rotation for the next decade. Tragically, we all know how that storyline ended. But it didn’t end with the 2000 postseason for me. It didn’t end with the wild pitches or the Steve Blass syndrome or whatever you want to call it. I tracked him through the minors constantly hunting for updates. I made sure to catch his brief major league callups only to be disappointed by the results.