soft hands.


Those who saw it still talk about "the bomb" Rick Ankiel drove over the right-field fence last month, over a berm and past a walkway at Round Rock's Dell Diamond. They talk about his right fielder's arm, center fielder's speed and his aptitude for learning a proper drop step needed to run down balls hit over his head.

And lately, the only organization Ankiel has ever known has pondered the proper time for promoting its former star-crossed pitcher to St. Louis as a position player. As the talk grows louder, Ankiel reminds himself not to listen.

"I just get excited about being successful," he says. "I try not to get too excited about where I'm at now because you never know what's going to happen."

No one is more entitled to that philosophy than Ankiel.

Ten years after being drafted, seven years after winning 11 games as a too-young-to-drink rookie lefthander and six years after virtually vanishing from the major leagues, Ankiel is close to accomplishing the truly Ruthian feat of moving from a major-league starting rotation to outfield. In between he has experienced a lifetime's worth of professional and personal angst. His return would represent an organizational as well as a personal triumph.

"I want to go up there and stay there and play for years," Ankiel says. "I don't want this to be a novelty where people say, 'Wow, look, he made it back' and then I go away."

Ankiel has had enough of being someone's novelty. He lived it for the last five years of his pitching existence, until his inability to retain command of his brilliant assortment proved too much to carry.

Now a month shy of turning 28 and one of only two remaining players in the organization from the 2000 NL Central Division championship team, Ankiel is ready for something else.

"I'm 27 now," he says. "I need to prove I can play or get out of the way." [stl post dispatch]


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