It was during Game 1 of the 2000 NLDS when Rick Ankiel lost control of the strike zone. The Cardinals pitcher threw five wild pitches in the third inning against the Atlanta Braves, en route to the start of his personal downward spiral. Despite efforts over the next few seasons to correct his mistakes, Ankiel never regained his ability to be effective on the mound.
After those setbacks, legions of critics wrote him off. He was thought to be mentally damaged and yesterday’s news. After all, how valuable is a major league pitcher who can’t throw strikes?
What many underestimated though was his desire to play again at the major league level. This time though as an everyday outfielder.
Switching from the mound to the field, and being expected to perform at the plate is no easy task, but Ankiel was up to the challenge. In 2007, the hard work paid off. Rick was named a Triple A All-Star and was leading the Pacific Coast League in homeruns with 32 when the Cardinals called him up to the main roster. Upon making his debut as an outfielder, the Busch Stadium faithful greeted him with a standing ovation. Later that same evening he’d reward them by delivering a two run homer in the seventh inning off of Padres reliever Doug Brocail.
Over the next six seasons, Ankiel would play in the majors for the Cardinals, Royals, Nationals, Braves, Astros and Mets. His best season would come in 2008 when as a member of the Cardinals he slugged 25 homers and drove in 71 RBI.
Considered by various media members to be reserved and more interested in playing the game than talking about it, a career in broadcasting appeared to be the furthest thing from consideration. But just as many were surprised by Ankiel’s conversion from the mound to the outfield, he’s once again throwing the entire baseball universe a curveball.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Ankiel has been hired by Fox Sports Midwest as a studio analyst for some of its Redbirds pregame and postgame shows. He’ll make his on-air debut on Tuesday prior to the Cardinals-Reds game. He’ll follow that up by delivering analysis for the following three games, plus he’ll add a few more appearances in the months ahead.
“He’s really well liked by Cardinals fans,” Fox Sports Midwest general manager Jack Donovan told the Post-Dispatch. “He’s a guest analyst — emphasizing it’s a guest/temporary thing. But sometimes those lead to other things…and he looks and talks great and has great potential.”
Ankiel proved during his baseball career that he can overcome the odds. Now the question is, will he do the same in broadcasting? Cardinals fans will get some of those questions answered next week.