They call him "The Natural."
Or, if they don't, they should.
Last night Roy Hobbs, er, Rick Ankiel showed everyone firsthand why he's such a special player. He made things happen with his bat, hitting a mammoth shot off of Colorado's Aaron Cook to answer Brad Hawpe's solo homer of just an inning earlier, in the process he put the Cardinals back on top.
He made things happen with his glove, making a diving, tumbling catch of a liner off the bat of Willy Taveras. The catch saved a run, as otherwise, Todd Helton's double later in the inning would have plated the Rockies' leadoff hitter.
Ankiel made things happen with his arm, long his most infamous asset, by throwing a bullet to third base that prevented a runner from moving up. All that remains to be seen at this point is whether or not he can stop the rains and allow the game to be played to its conclusion. Honestly, I don’t think it would shock anyone at this point if he did.
We all saw why Rick is such a tremendous talent. We also saw why he's such an amazing story. The ovations he receives, each and every time he does something, are some of the loudest and, let's face it, most emotional that you will ever witness. St. Louis loves Roy Hobbs. This damaged, ungodly talented man means more to us than any ballplayer has a right to.
For every one of us who has a sibling with an alcohol problem, we see Rick struggling to get himself together. For every one of us who has ever failed miserably at anything, we see Rick getting back up and trying it again. And for every one of us who have ever been beaten down by life, been humiliated or scarred by the world, we see redemption every time Rick Ankiel comes up to the plate. He’s no longer a washout, no longer a head case. He's well on his way not even being "ex-pitching phenom" Rick Ankiel. As the ad says, he's just Rick Ankiel, ballplayer.
We Cardinal fans probably love Rick far too much; no one can ever live up to our image of him at this point. But for now, however brief a moment it may end up being, we all live and die with Rick Ankiel. Every one of us sees something good in him, something we ourselves hope to be. It's not fair; not to him, not to us, because we're almost guaranteed to be let down. Until then, though, Rick Ankiel is our Roy Hobbs.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Now, if he could just stop this damned rain. There’s baseball to be played.
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