“Many Thanks to Cardinals’ fans and the City of St. Louis for your support and cheers over the years,” the ad read, with a picture of Ankiel smiling. “It was a privilege and an honor.”
Ankiel spent 12 years in the Cardinals organization after they drafted him in 1997, just about all of them remarkable for different reasons. Through his stunning fall as a pitcher and dramatic rise as a power-hitting outfielder, Ankiel cherished the city’s fans’ consistently warm response.
“For years, they just supported me in everything that was going on,” Ankiel said. “Just throughout my career, is the easier way to put it. I just wanted to let them know that I appreciated the time that I was here.”
As a left-handed starting pitcher, Ankiel became the best prospect in baseball before the 2000 season. He finished second in rookie of the year balloting after he won 11 games with a 3.50 ERA. It seemed nothing could stop him, with his fall-off-the-table curveball and a high-90s fastball, from conquering the baseball world.
Of course, Ankiel’s infamous downfall as a starting pitcher began during Game 1 of the 2000 NLDS, when he missed the strike zone by unthinkable margins, pitch after excruciating pitch. By spring training of 2005, he simply walked away from pitching, literally strolling off a mound one morning.
His resurrection was just as stunning: Ankiel became a full-time outfielder and immediately became the best power-hitting prospect in the Cardinals organization. After 2 ½ seasons in the minors, including one he missed with an injury, Ankiel made it back to the majors and hit 36 homers in 585 at-bats in 2007 and 2008.
Flying into St. Louis on Monday night, Ankiel thought back to 2008 , when he still played for the Cardinals. Former Cardinals outfielder Jim Edmonds returned as a member of the Chicago Cubs and took out an ad to thank St. Louis fans.
“Remembering that, I was like, ‘Man, what a good idea, and what a great way to give my appreciation,’ ” Ankiel said. “I made some phone calls and made it happen.”