Five years after his last Major League game, Rick Ankiel, once the next great pitcher, is considering a return to baseball at the age of 39.
Rick Ankiel was once considered the next baseball phenom. Now the 39-year-old, five years removed from his last Major League appearance, is trying to make a comeback.
Ankiel told Yahoo Sports’ Tim Brown on Wednesday that he is considering a return to professional baseball as a pitcher. He last played in the majors in 2013, and last pitched in the big leagues in 2004.
Ankiel was playing in the Bluegrass World Series, an exhibition featuring retired players, where he showed off his two-way skills. He went 2-4 with four RBI at the plate, and struck out the only batter he faced as a pitcher. His fastball reportedly reached 89 m.p.h.
“I have nothing to lose. I’m not afraid. I might as well try,” he told Brown.
It was as a pitcher that Ankiel was the next big thing in baseball. Drafted in the second round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1997 out of a Port St. Lucie, Florida high school, he quickly rose through the Cardinals organization to make his debut in 1999. He showed early promise that season, with a 3.27 ERA in five starts.
In 2000, Ankiel looked like he would blossom into a superstar. Entering the season as the No. 1 prospect in baseball, he went 11-7 with a 3.50 ERA, striking out 194 in just 175 innings. He was just 20 years old and had the look of a great career ahead of him.
It all unraveled that October, however. In Game 1 of the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves, Ankiel came down with a case of the yips. He threw five wild pitches in one inning and walked six batters in just 2 2/3 innings.
Ankiel was never the same again. He made just six starts the next season, but his ERA ballooned to 7.13. He missed all of 2002 and 2003 after having Tommy John surgery. He returned to the Cardinals briefly in 2004, making five relief appearances.
His career as a pitcher all but over, in 2005 Ankiel decided to switch to the outfield. Making it back to the majors in 2007, for the next seven seasons he hit .242 with 74 home runs and 242 RBI. His best season came with the Cardinals in 2008, when he hit 25 homers with 71 RBI. He also played for the Royals, Braves, Nationals, Astros and Mets.
Since retiring as a player in 2013, Ankiel has devoted himself to mentoring young players who experience the same anxiety that plagued him. Now that he is older, he feels like he has a fresh perspective on the game and wants to leave his children with a memory of his playing days.
“My kids have never seen me play, never seen me pitch,” he said. “And I feel like I’m in a better place.”
He is no longer the can’t miss kid. But Ankiel still feels like he can be the Comeback Kid.