Sunday, April 03, 2011

Greek for "Ankiel-Lizard"

Ankylosaurus was an herbivorous dinosaur that wielded a club made out of a bunch crap that congealed at the end of its tail. The typical Ankylosaurus found its target only occasionally, but it did enough damage on those occasions to make its Cretaceous contemporaries think twice about messing with it.

Rick Ankiel is an omnivorous outfielder that wields a club made out of wood, which he swings with the wild desperation of an also-ran dinosaur being eaten by a Tyrannosaurus rex. Like his namesake, he seldom finds his target, but he makes sure it hurts when he does.
Rick Ankiel is the Than lan moc cau of baseball. And in my book, that's worth 1000 đồng.

Unlike the Ankylosaurus, which didn't exactly stand out among the really impressive animal life of 100 million years ago, Rick Ankiel has had one of the most compelling stories in baseball.

Ankiel came up with the Cardinals as a pitcher sometime during the pre-Nats dark ages. He boasted one of those preposterous curveballs that in other contexts would cause one to criticize a video game for being unrealistic. Unfortunately, his other go-to pitch was a fastball to the backstop, which he debuted and used perhaps excessively during the 2000 playoffs. It was an awful sight, and Ankiel was sent to the minors to work on some of those things that a pitching coach really can't help you with.

That should have been the last we ever heard of him. He pitched all over the Cards minor league system, threw some of those Desmond-style random target fastballs, and had some injuries. News filtered up through whatever it is that protects the casual baseball fan from every dispatch from Knoxville that he was going to try baseballing from the other side, as an outfielder.

The crazy thing was: it worked. He displayed both the power and whiffiness of an Ankylosaurus' tail, along with the ability to handle the outfield and gun down anyone who remembered his pitching career and figured it was safe to run on him. He hit a three-run home run in his first game back in the majors since his playoff humiliation and went on to have a couple quite decent seasons as a major league outfielder.

Isn't that nuts? I mean, that never happens. One of the things that happens when you watch baseball for a while and take the long view is you see the same stuff happen over and over. Great players get old, bounce around, and retire. Pitchers blow out their arms, try to come back, and retire. GMs rob Dominican teenagers, get investigated by the FBI, and get fired. Ankiel's career path is, if not unique, enough to set him apart from all the other soul patched hopefuls that march over the green fields of baseball every year.

And now he's here, bringing with him his rich backstory and his distinctive, dinosaur-with-a-bone-club-on-its-tail skillset, and I'm all for it. I'd rather watch an interesting player than a good one, and Ankiel's about the most interesting non-Cuban ballplayer out there.

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