Even if you weren’t among the packed house at Busch Stadium on that fateful October day, it’s more than likely you know the Rick Ankiel story. Or think you do. One of the game’s top prospects–the next Sandy Koufax or Bob Gibson, the arm that was going to carry the St. Louis Cardinals to greatness, it all fell apart as pitch after pitch sailed to the backstop.
In his new book The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed my Life, Ankiel shows that we really had no idea about his real story.
“At the time, there were some of those questions I couldn’t even answer–especially about the pitching stuff,” said Ankiel. “Some of it, in being an athlete, you’re taught to have this game face or never show emotion, never let anybody in. So there’s no way that I would’ve been able to reveal what was going on inside and what I was going through at the time. I just wouldn’t have been able to do it. I mean, you’re going out there and trying to keep it all together and act like you’ve got everything together.
“Also with that, when I went through it–the throwing stuff, I couldn’t find literature on it and nobody wanted to talk about it. I don’t have a problem talking about it. I made it to the other side of it. I finished my career successfully as an outfielder and I realized that I can help people. That’s not always about the throwing stuff, but I remember getting letters from people in different walks of life–whether it be broadcasting, or writers, that said I went through a similar thing in all kind of walks of life. So I understood that I could help people and the timing was right now that I’m done and I could go back and reflect.”
The story is so much more than the pitch in the 2000 National League Divisional Series that set things into a downward spiral.
Ankiel takes us back to some of the darker moments in his life–for example, a young “chubby Ricky” he hid behind the bed to hide from an abusive father who battered his mother.
“A lot of those things I locked away deep down and figured I would never have to talk about again, didn’t want to, didn’t think I would ever have to,” said Ankiel. “But when you take a look at my story, it has to be included. It just sets the precedence for the entire story. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, writing about the family stuff.”
Although the book was just officially released today, Ankiel has already received a lot of response and thanks from others that suffered a similar plight. Sharing his story has also been therapeutic for Ankiel.
“I didn’t know this was going to happen, but just talking about it and getting it out there has been good for me too,” he said.
The nightmares, the hours throwing a ball at a cement wall to try and regain his feel to pitch, turning to ecstasy and vodka to help deal with the anxiety–Ankiel doesn’t shy away from any of his struggle as he opens up to bring us up close to his struggle with “The Thing” which ended his pitching career.
“It consumes you,” said Ankiel. “For four years, when I left the park I’m doing everything I can to distract myself to get away from it, but it will not leave me alone. I’d wake up in the middle of the night with nightmares of not being able to pitch and I’d wake up with my heart beating 100mph and sweating. It’s like that nightmare that almost everybody’s had where the bad guy’s chasing you and you can’t run very fast. It’s like you’re in slow motion. And nightly. So I was looking for ways to get away from it and try to forget it for a few hours.”
But his story is not all dark and despair. Rick Ankiel’s triumphant journey back to the Major Leagues as an outfielder–how it was actually a master plan put together by his agent, Scott Boras, mentor Harvey Dorfman, and the Cardinals is revealed.
Again, whatever we thought we knew–now we really know.