dreaming of ankiel

Yep, this one is about sports. Does that surprise you?! But there’s some universal stuff, I swear. Now while it’s always rather easy to be a Jayhawks fan, my “hometown” teams of the Chiefs and the Royals have given me much heartache. I diligently cheer them on and try to relish the underdog and “not again” status they evoke. I’m hoping for a comer like George Brett (even with the bat tantrum) or the final career glory of Joe Montana. Impressed, aren’t you?!

So when I recently found out that the Royals signed Rick Ankiel for this coming Baseball season, I started dreaming of Spring. Who’s Rick Ankiel you ask? Well, sit back and relax because this is a good one. Now if you read my blog you know that I am sucker for a good story, something affirming that shatters the odds. Because I believe that anything is possible. People can be amazing when they do not accept the alternative.

So briefly (and there’s much more detail if you google him) Rick Ankiel started as a pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals back in 1999. And he was good. Damn good. On track to make some huge records and end up in the Hall of Fame. Then in 2000, at the age of 20, he and his team were in the playoffs and something happened. His arm was gone, or his directional tragectory was gone. He thew 5 wild pitches in an inning (9 over 4 innings) and was pulled from the game. People were saying it was over. He had lost it.

Proving that he is of singular conviction, Rick didn’t accept the end of his professional baseball career. This is what he was meant to do and if he couldn’t pitch… well, hell he was a good hitter too. So my boy Rick decides to become an outfielder. Yep, he says “take that MLB, I’m not going away.” But it was a long road back because this just doesn’t always happen or it doesn’t always work. So a few years pass and he ends up with the Pacific Coast League Triple A ball club.

Now we jump to August 9, 2007. Rick got the call and is back with the St. Louis Cardinals starting out in his first game. And he hits a 3-run homer. And the crowd freaks. And Sports Center freaks. And everyone rejoices because this just doesn’t get to happen, right? People don’t get to be wonderful numerous times. Or do they?! Maybe that ability is in everyone but when you lose your arm for some unexplainable reason it might be easy to cash out, to give up. Not Rick. He knew his place and it was the ballpark. Maybe not the pitcher’s mound as he thought in high school, but out in the field.

At 28 years old his first four games contained three home runs. And for me it brought this amazing sense of hope. Because we all want to think that life gives us multiple chances. That we get, if not a do-over, then another try. And I think we do. But we have to earn it, we have to be workers and fighters.

And now Rick Ankiel is a Kansas City Royal, for at least a year. And I’m buying a jersey with his name and number on it (I’ve never done that before). My dad said he’d take me to a game when I go visit over the summer. So I’m going to sit in the Midwestern sun and watch a man live out a dream. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Thank you Rick. For reminding me that there is nothing foolish about destiny, there is nothing wrong with a (verging on) fanatical belief that you belong somewhere specific and that if life smacks you down you have to get back up. You have to make it happen and not stop trying. Ever. So here it is from someone’s home video. It’s not majestical or anything, but it’s a man stepping back into his dream. And that is amazing.

This also makes me think of an episode of Sports Night (which you know I love) where a pitcher is making a MLB comeback. The details aren’t necessarily important (although it’s a great episode, “The Sword of Orion”) but one line sticks out. Casey (played by Josh Charles) says “There’s really nothing like seeing a guy realize he’s not done yet. Usually it goes the other way.” It’s true, right? Life gets hard and people give up. When I am less resilient, and I have been lately, I have a tougher time gearing up for the fight. But then I realize that it’s not going to get easier and, if Rick Ankiel and others are any indication, it’s probably going to get harder. So maybe I have to switch positions and get creative to stay in the game. Because I love the game and I belong there.

Waiting for Opening Day,

L

THINGS I’M DIGGING THIS WEEK: LOST’s Seasons 1-5 Recap (so excited for Feb 2) and John Denver’s “Sunshine on My Shoulder” (cynics beware, it’s cheesy but great and my mom & dad used to sing it to us)

DREAM ROLE: The Angel in Angels in America (someday, the third revival perhaps)

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