How great is this Rick Ankiel story? I'm serious, this is one of the coolest stories in all of my years of watching baseball. I can't think of a story more tailor made for a feel good sports film.
Before game 1 of the 2000 playoffs, Cardinals Tony LaRussa won't reveal who his starting pitcher is. Secretly he puts his faith in 20 year old Rick Ankiel. Protecting a 6 run lead, Ankiel implodes on national television... walking 4 and throwing 5 wild pitches in one inning.
LaRussa stands by his man and starts him in game 2 of the NLCS versus the Mets, but his wildness is so intense than the announcers literally take pity on him and he doesn't get out of the first.
He is sent back to the minors the next year and after a comeback in 2004, his career was over.
His career over, he goes home to see his brother die and father in legal trouble. He wants to get back to baseball but knows his pitching days are over... so he decides to try to become a hitter. The one time pitching phenom goes back to the low minors as an outfielder. The media mocks him but he works at it... and Tony LaRussa believes in him.
He starts to come back and is in the minor leagues when the Cardinals win the 2006 World Series. He tries to earn a spot on the 2007 Cardinals but doesn't make the team. Meanwhile the Cardinals are in turmoil... Tony LaRussa gets arrested for drunk driving, Scott Speizio loses time for a drug problem and Josh Hancock dies in a car crash. The team is falling apart and not contending until... Rick Ankiel comes back as an outfielder. He homers in his first game and hits 2 homers 2 days later. The Cardinals win 6 of the first 8 games with him back and jump back into contention.
You will forgive me for not including the Cardinals on my "Who I should root for?" NL Central... but could you blame me? On August 5, the Cardinals had lost their 5th in a row and dropped to 8 games under .500 and 8 games behind the leading Brewers.
They are 8-3 since... and with neither the Brewers nor the Cubs able to get out of their own way, the Cardinals are now only 3 out and suddenly a defense of their World Championship isn't so outlandish.
If the Cardinals win the division, the Rick Ankiel story will put The Rookie to shame.