Diamond Diaries

Cardinal baseball, from the girls

Tag Archives: Rick Ankiel

From Hollywood to Comeback Kid to… Blah

Ankiel newspaper ad (h/t Derrick Goold)

I was thinking the other day about a post I did last year about Colby Rasmus and JD Drew. (We randomly still get hits on the site from google using search terms such as “Colby Rasmus Tony LaRussa feud.” Those are my favorite!) With the Nationals currently in town and Rick Ankiel currently roaming the grass of Busch Stadium, I find myself pondering the centerfield position again. Now, I planned on doing this piece for today over the weekend, having absolutely no idea that the Nationals and Rick Ankiel were about to swing in to town. Now, after Ankiel took out a half-page ad in yesterday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I feel slightly clairvoyant, and a little less original in my deciding to talk about centerfielders.

So I’ve been thinking over the past few centerfielders that the Cardinals have had. We’ve had Hollywood. We’ve had the Comeback Kid. Now we have… umm… Colby.

I have very fond memories of the man they call Hollywood in Jim Edmonds. He made ridiculous catches, flying over the wall, diving across the grass, and making jaws drop with his latest Sportscenter highlight. People were in awe of his flashy plays. His shelf is full of Gold Gloves, and his reckless abandon with how he played the game will not be forgotten for a long time throughout Cardinal Nation.

On the offensive side of the ball, Edmonds was a strong presence, hitting in a crucial part of the order, either behind Mark McGwire or behind Albert Pujols. He could hit home runs, work a walk, and strike out like nobody’s business. He was also a clubhouse guy – a cheerleader even. I will never forget the pure joy in his face back in 2004 when he hit the home run to extend NLCS on to game 7. It was a perfect baseball moment. Jimmy brought the joy.

When Edmonds left the Cardinals for the greener pastures of Wrigley Field, Miller Park and finally Great American Ballpark (still can’t believe he did all those things), he was replaced by a pitcher. Okay, a former pitcher. Okay, it was Rick the Stick.

Rick Ankiel was a pitcher, who had a historic collapse in his first postseason appearance in 2000, where he set actual records for wild pitches thrown in a postseason game. He kind of vanished from baseball, and was ready to quit altogether, when he decided to become an outfielder. He battled his way back up through the minors and made an incredible burst back into the majors in 2007, where he hit .285/.328/.535 with 11 home runs over the final third of the season. He was the Comeback Kid in every way.

Ankiel was not the defensive prowess that Edmonds was. He made the plays, yes, but by all appearances he did not have the range of an Edmonds. Fox Sports Midwest still loves showing the clips from when he threw out two Rockies baserunners in a game, and we knew he had a cannon of an arm, but there was a difference in his style from the flair that Edmonds had. He had a reckless abandon, something that became abundantly clear when he crashed headfirst into the walls of Busch about two years ago (yes, the video is included in that link, and no, I can’t watch it again).

Something Ank wasn’t, however, was a media darling. He was adored by fans, but he was a media pariah. When he left the team at the end of 2009, he deked the scribes waiting for closing statements while the players were cleaning out their stuff and snuck out without saying anything. He wasn’t a big clubhouse guy. He got along with teammates, but wasn’t a leader. The fact that he put out that half page ad in the P-D completely shocked me (and probably most of Cardinal Nation). It was a classy move from the Comeback Kid.

When Ankiel left, it was for greener pastures, and by pastures I mean dollar bills. No matter, people were ready for the next big thing. Colby Rasmus had been the heir apparent centerfielder ever since he was drafted in the first round of the 2005 amateur draft. Minor league fans were begging to see him at Busch, and major league fans weren’t always sure what all the fuss was about, but they liked having someone to fuss about.

Leave me alone... please?

Then Colby made it. He played solid. He kept his head down. He was… blah. We have a blah centerfielder. Don’t get me wrong – he’s good. He’s really good. He’s very quietly leading the team in several offensive categories. While he was at first too anxious at the plate, he is patient now, leading the team with 9 walks. He’s focused on getting on base, putting the ball in play, and getting into a good position to scamper across home plate. He has the most at-bats, hits, and total bases on the team, a welcome relief for the prospect geeks that screamed into the ethers of the internets for Tony to use Colby more consistently. Yet… he’s blah.

He’s not the face of the team. He truly doesn’t want to be. He looks scared to death with a microphone in front of his face and most of his quotes sound like a combination between a surfer and a hick. Don’t get me wrong – I’m becoming a bigger Colby fan by the minute right now, but gosh, this kid is just flat out boring!

I’m absolutely pulling for him though. He can hide from the media all he wants, and hang out in the shadows. He can be one of the most underrated players on the team. It’s what he wants. Cardinal Nation just doesn’t know what to do with him.

Cards At The K

If you’ve never been to a game at the beautiful Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, you truly are missing out. Now, I wrote about the Cardinals’ rivalry with the Royals over at Baseball Digest, so I won’t rehash it, but despite the score, it was really a fun atmosphere down at the K last night. To start – here was the scene around the third inning last night:

Yes, I sit in nosebleeds. I like it, too. Sweet views!

As you can see, there are an awful lot of red shirts in the seats, to the point where the ‘LET’S go CARDinals! *clap*clap*clapclapclap*’ chants  were much better than anything the Royals PA could put together.

Don’t forget (although you want to) – the Royals won. They were just overpowered in the stands. I heard several mentions on my way into the stadium about how cool it was to see the ‘sea of red’ taking over the parking lots. (To be fair, season ticket holders and anyone buying a ticket package park in a different lot.)


I wasn’t going to say anything, but I have to – Royals fans moan about how Cardinal fans need to get over 1985, but if they don’t quit wearing their 25 year old world championship t-shirts pretty soon, the shirts will start showing up at the park sans-owners. That leads perfectly into my list of FANS OF THE GAME!


1st Place: This gentleman (that’s a kind word) was sitting next to my family. The front of his shirt had 2 dead birds hanging off a bat. This is the back:

2nd Place: I’m amazed that I didn’t notice this man until the 7th inning stretch. Maybe it’s because I see him every year. No joke. Then again, when were Beanie Babies last cool – 2001? I also enjoy that he is wearing a KU championship shirt instead of a Royals shirt. Convenient for when the score is reversed, ehh?

3rd Place: Sadly, I don’t have this one (not for lack of trying), but this one goes to the two buddies that were wearing Royal blue Denkinger shirts. Number 85, of course.

Honorable Mention: I feel the need to notice the following good Cardinal folks that made the trek: the Scott Spiezio jersey, the 2 Chris Duncan jerseys (2? In the same section? But not together? Madness!), and the 2 year old in the Rick Ankiel jersey. Friends, wait to buy player jerseys for your kids until they fit into them. Don’t plan ahead, or if you do, go for a franchise player!

All jokes aside, I truly do enjoy going to games in Kansas City. I’ve been to enough games over the years and have enjoyed seats from the 4th row to the 4th deck. I’m telling you – there is not a bad view no matter where you sit. I like sitting way up high because you can take in everything at once, from the shift of the infield to the action in both bullpens. The Royals have done very extensive renovations in their outfield over the past few years. If you haven’t been recently – here’s the view of the outfield area:

The right field area is the place to be in my mind. On hot days the Pepsi Party Porch will give you a nice mist when the fountains are on, and the whole outfield area is now open with different attractions and places to stand and watch the games. I’d venture that about 75% (probably more) of the people wandering around out there during the game actually have seats, but never sit in them. Even compared to games that I attended here 5 years ago, this is a much more fan-friendly atmosphere now.

Friday nights are the best nights, because the Royals do a pretty spectacular fireworks show that you do not want to miss! It’s not quite to the standards of the 4th of July at the Arch, but it is worth seeing, every time!

So for any of you out there that are going to be at either of the next two games, see ya there (I’ll be one of the ones not sitting in a seat), enjoy the stadium, and help me bring home some winners!

Come for the Atmosphere, Stay for the Baseball

Monday’s post by Erika wonderfully captured the magnitude of her family’s pilgrimage to St. Louis for a Cardinals game. Living in the Quad Cities, I have the chance to see a form of Cardinals’ baseball regularly: the River Bandits, their Class A minor league team. And baseball at this level is a much different experience than what takes place 200 miles to the south.

No. 76 in Derrick Goold’s book 100 Things Cardinals Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die is to visit the River Bandits. It’s the ballpark itself, though, that merits the mention on his list. Modern Woodmen Park is along the banks of the Mississippi River in Davenport, Iowa, and offers a beautiful view of the riverfront and the Centennial Bridge. If you saw the movie Sugar, you saw firsthand how lovely the ballpark really is. (The picture above, from the River Bandits website, doesn’t really do justice.) As Goold wrote, “come for the atmosphere, stay for the baseball.”

It’s true the baseball at this level can seem secondary, as going to a game here is more for entertainment than knowing the players. The River Bandits staff makes sure everyone in attendance has plenty to do. There’s a kids play area down the right field line with a bounce house and other games, plus a tiki bar beyond the right field fence to provide a grown-up play area. Outfield seating is along the grass berm – while it was constructed to provide flood control, it also provides a unique way to experience the game. There’s a walkway along the outfield so you can stroll along and look at the Mississippi River. The left field corner is a season-long work-in-progress: corn is planted each season, so the players can walk through it as they are introduced, just like in Field of Dreams (filmed in Dyersville, Iowa, about 70 miles away). Between innings are on-field games ranging from two-person toilet races to racing Rascal, the Bandits mascot, around the bases.

Of course, there is actually a game played. You can get an up-close and very affordable view of it as well, since box seats range in price from $9 to $12. The top price seats are behind the plate, offering the added attraction of watching the nightly collection of scouts utilizing their radar guns and taking notes on what the players are doing.

It’s the top prospects that the scouts are there to watch. Through the years, and through team affiliations with the Cubs, Angels, Astros and Twins, I’ve seen firsthand players like Shawon Dunston, Jim Edmonds, Richard Hidalgo, the one and only Aaron Miles, Billy Wagner, Bobby Kielty, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. But success here doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing in the big leauges. I remember very well Michael Restovich, who played for the River Bandits in 1999. He had a monster season and hit .312 with 21 home runs and a franchise-record 107 RBI. He did make it to the majors, but played only 152 games total over six seasons and for five teams. (He is still playing baseball, currently with the Dodgers Triple A team in Albuquerque.)

Since 2005, the Quad Cities team has been a Cardinals affiliate. That year, Rick Ankiel spent a couple months here as he transitioned to outfielder from pitcher. I went to his first game, as he’d been one of my favorite Cardinals and I’d been at his then-final major league start in May 2001. It was an ordinary crowd and an ordinary night; the only memory that stands out is a terrific throw he made in from right field.

Many of the current Cardinals have made their way through the Quad Cities. I remember seeing both Jaime Garcia and Colby Rasmus here only a few years ago, and Nick Stavinoha was here in 2005. The Swing had a female public address announcer that year – and she loved saying his last name, dragging out each syllable before every at-bat. He was worth the extra effort, though: he hit .344 and hit 14 homers.

Because these players are just beginning their careers, the team marketing doesn’t usually focus on a player. The Swing, however, took full advantage of the five innings that Mark Mulder pitched here during an August 2006 rehab start. For 2007, his picture (complete in the Swing baby blues) graced the cover of the team’s schedule plus there was a Mark Mulder Swing bobblehead night. His one-game appearance was a big deal and the ballpark was packed. Of course I was there, and my friend Kathy captured Mark’s memorable Swing career in the adjacent photo.

This year, the River Bandits tickets feature a photo of Shelby Miller, likely taken during the three innings he pitched here at the end of last season. Miller, along with Joe Kelly and Robert Stock, are the top prospects we can see play here for now. The thing is, as Bandits fans yet also Cardinals fans, we never want to see these guys stick around very long. It’s the first stop along the journey, so we want them moving up to Palm Beach or beyond as quickly as they can.

And as a baseball fan, I can appreciate the entire experience that attending a River Bandits game offers. Friday night I was with my friend Keith, who goes for the entertainment value more than the baseball. Yet he admitted he has a new respect for the players on the field after we saw Sugar last year, especially those players who have come to the Quad Cities from outside the U.S. He would patiently pause our conversation, which ranged from the movie to burying St. Joseph statues to player superstitions and more, whenever my attention was sidetracked by the on-field action. Yes, it’s definitely the atmosphere. But for me it’s also the baseball.

How Good is Jaime?

Spending the last four days without any internet connection was absolute torture, because it meant I was completely cut off from baseball. The only baseball I could find solace in was in the texts I received from various sources, 15 second Cardinal highlights on Sportscenter, and the six Nationals hats I saw while wandering DC. Don’t try to tell me they give a rip about baseball out there…

But I digress.

I’ve been working on a little project that was suggested to me as a possible topic for the blog a week or so ago. The challenge: put together a comparison between Jaime Garcia’s first 7 games and the first 7 of some of the more well-known rookie Cardinal pitchers of the past. I realize that Jaime has now pitched 8 games, but I got the research before I left town, so 7 it is. My criteria was fairly simple: players included (roughly) one starting pitcher for each decade and they had to come up through the St. Louis farm system. The later names I’m sure most of you know, but the earlier names might be a little unfamiliar, so here are bios on all the boys.

Jaime Garcia (full rookie year: 2010) – Jaime was selected in the 22nd round of the 2005 draft. He came up for one start and a handful of relief appearances in 2008, then was shut down for almost all of 2009 after having Tommy John surgery. He came back to pitch well at the end of 2009, and won a place in the starting five coming out of Spring Training this year.


Rick Ankiel (2000) – Rick was signed out of high school and given a $2.5 million signing bonus, which the Cardinals had not ever seen before nor have paid since. He was 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting in 2000 and struck out almost 10 batters per 9 using a devastating curveball, a mid-to-high 90’s fastball and a sharp sinker. He fell apart in the NLDS, throwing 5 wild pitches in 1 inning against the Braves. 5 more went to the backstop in game 2 of the NLCS against the Mets, and things did not improve in 2001 for Rick. He went back to the minors and… well, you know him now as Rick Ankiel, centerfielder for the Kansas City Royals. To quote Harry Doyle in Major League 2, “It’s a funny game, eh Monty?”


Matt Morris (1997) – Matty Mo was taken 12th overall in the 1995 draft, and didn’t waste time becoming a fan favorite in St. Louis. He pitched well for a few years, underwent Tommy John in 1999, then won 22 games in 2001, made the first of his two All-Star appearances, came in 3rd for the Cy Young and won the Comeback Player of the Year award. After 2005 he signed a 3 year deal with the Giants, and was traded to the Pirates before retiring in 2008.


Danny Cox (1983) – Danny was drafted in the 13th round of the 1981 draft. His numbers fluctuated a little over his first 5 years, then he dropped off the radar completely after 1988, when he underwent shoulder surgery and was released by the Cardinals. After recovering from surgery he was a changed pitcher, found himself in Philly, Pittsburgh and Toronto and finished his career as a rarely used relief pitcher.


Bob Forsch (1974) – Forsch was taken in the 26th round of the 1968 draft. He is one of few pitchers to pitch two no-hitters in his career, both of them coming at Busch II. These are also the only two no-hitters pitched in Busch II. His brother, Ken, was also a pitcher and also pitched a no-hitter, making the Forsch brothers the only set of brothers to ever accomplish this feat. Bob was a ‘better’ hitting pitcher, holding down a .213 batting average and winning two Silver Sluggers in his career.


Steve Carlton (1966) – Carlton was brought on as an unsigned free agent in 1963. Were it not for contract disputes with the volatile Gussie Busch, Steve wouldn’t be remembered as one of the greatest Phillie pitchers of all time. He was already a 2 time All-Star by the time 1970 rolled around, however he held out during Spring Training, then lasted through 1971 before Gussie had him traded to the Phils, in what many consider to be the worst trade the Cardinals have ever made (yes, worse than Mulder, for you more recent fans).


Larry Jaster (1966) – Jaster was signed as an undrafted free agent in 1962, and spent a few years in the minors before getting the call in late 1965. In his rookie year alone he shut out the Dodgers 5 times – and the Dodgers won the pennant in ’66! He had another solid year in 1967, but never matched up to those first two full years. Jaster found himself in Atlanta in 1970 where he made 14 relief appearances, then appeared in 5 more games in 1972 and was out of baseball after that – at only age 28. Fun fact: Jaster was the first pitcher to throw a pitch in Canada.

Thank you Wikipedia!

Bob Gibson (1959) – If I tried to say 5 words on Hoot, I’d talk for 5 paragraphs. I defer you instead to the box at the right, noting all of Gibson’s highlights. Add ‘Hall of Fame’ to that résumé as well, if you would.


Dizzy Dean (1932) – Ol’ Diz is in a class by himself. He was one of the leaders of the Gashouse Gang of the 1930’s, and his colorful antics and bizarre way with words made him both endearing and irritating to all who tried to follow him. Along with his brother Paul, Diz predicted that the two of them would combine to win 45 games in a season – and they did! If you’re looking for some lighthearted fun in baseball history – look no further than Dizzy Dean.


Those were the boys (and yes, there will be a quiz). Now for the statistics! Putting the stats together was time-consuming, hence my unwillingness to add in an 8th start to every pitcher. For several, the ‘first seven’ for each pitcher sometimes spanned a couple of different seasons. The year listed is the year that they had their first full season.


So, how good is Jaime? He leads this rather spectacular group in ERA, runs, earned runs, hits allowed, batting average against, on base percentage and on base plus slugging. Ol’ Diz had a leg up on the slugging line, as he played in the ‘Dead Ball Era,’ otherwise Garcia would have had a clean sweep on the percentages. I feel that the most true number here to balance out innings pitched (among other factors) is to note the WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) line. While Jaime does not lead that category, pulling second in that ferocious lineup is still quite impressive.
Bottom line – do I or anyone else expect Jaime Garcia to continue running these kind of numbers up the scoreboard? No, of course not. All of the players in this study went on to have very different careers. Some became Hall of Famers, some saw their careers end far too soon, and there’s always Ankiel. What I am saying is that our current rook is definitely making his case to be something special, and I know I’m not the only one out there who is ‘honking for Jaime.’
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