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A Rare Baseball Comeback from Rick Ankiel
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A Rare Baseball Comeback from Rick Ankiel

Sports

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And now to an amazing story from baseball. Seven years ago, a lot of baseball people thought that Rick Ankiel was going to be the next great pitcher of our time. He played for the St. Louis Cardinals and even at 21 he was good enough to start the first game of the playoffs that year. But in that pressure game, Rick Ankiel cracked. His pitches went wild. He couldn't get near the plate, and he was never the same again. He quit the game four years later.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

But then he did something that no one in baseball does. He reinvented himself as a powerhitting outfielder. The Cardinals, short of hitting power this season, called him back to the big leagues. Yesterday he played his first game last night with this storybook moment.

(Soundbite of baseball game)

Mr. DAN McLAUGHLIN (Broadcaster): Ankiel out to deep right field. Has a chance to leave the ballpark - it's gone! A three run shot for Rick Ankiel back in the Major Leagues. Remarkable.

CHADWICK: That's St. Louis Cardinals broadcaster Dan Mclaughlin. And earlier I spoke with Rick Hummel, baseball columnist for the St. Louis Post Dispatch and a new member of the baseball Hall of Fame. He described the moment last night.

Mr. RICK HUMMEL (Columnist, St. Louis Post Dispatch): It was pretty electric. They've had so many bad things happen to their club this year. People were ready for something good to happen last night, and the place erupted, and Tony La Russa, who almost never smiles from the dugout, couldn't stop himself.

CHADWICK: Well, here is the manager, Tony La Russa, after the game.

Mr. TONY LA RUSSA (Manager, St Louis Cardinals) Short of winning the World Series is (unintelligible) I mean he is such a special young man, and what a moment.

CHADWICK: In that moment, you're sitting there in the press box seeing all this, do you guys try to look with each other and say, holy moly?

Mr. HUMMEL: Well, not really. I figured he'd hit a home run. I didn't think it'd be his first game. But I've seen him do a lot of things over the years and see what a great athlete he is. I think nothing this guy does in his career would surprise me anymore because I've seen him be really good and really awful.

CHADWICK: You remember that playoff game seven years ago. You saw him when he cracked up trying to pitch. I mean, that must be a very difficult thing to come back from.

Mr. HUMMEL: Well, he didn't, basically. He lost his desire to pitch, I think. Now, It wasn't so much that playoff series where he was so wild both against the Braves and the Mets, but the next spring he couldn't throw a strike to save his life and then he'd get out of the mound at exhibition games and you'd almost find yourself praying for him to throw the ball over the plate rather than off the screen.

CHADWICK: Did you talk to him about that then and try to interview him and say what's going on? I don't know if people can explain it.

Mr. HUMMEL: Well, to a degree. He wasn't a great interview then and he's not necessarily a great interview now. He doesn't offer up much about what's going on other than the fact that he didn't - he couldn't explain it.

CHADWICK: Well, here's Rick Ankiel after the game last night talking to reporters.

Mr. RICK ANKIEL (Baseball Player, St. Louis Cardinals): You know, I can't put it into words. I mean, I couldn't have wrote that any better.

CHADWICK: I couldn't have wrote that any better, he said. But someone did write it. Bernard Malamud, "The Natural." I mean this is the story of Roy Hobbs, isn't it? One of the great baseball stories. Fiction but now made real.

Mr. HUMMEL: Well, it could be. It could be. Now, it remains to be seen if he's good enough to be a regular player, and that's why they have the rest of August and all of September to find out.

CHADWICK: Rick Hummel, St. Louis Post Dispatch sports columnist, newly inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a writer. Rick, congratulations to you and thank you.

Mr. HUMMEL: You're welcome, Alex. Thank you.

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