Rick Ankiel: Background information when reading Chatter

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The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It

by Ethan Kross

Chatter by Ethan Kross X
Chatter by Ethan Kross
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2021, 272 pages

    Feb 2022, 288 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Nichole Brazelton
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About this Book

Rick Ankiel

This article relates to Chatter

Print Review

Rick Ankiel Rick Ankiel was born in 1979 in Fort Pierce, Florida. At an early age, he threw himself into baseball as a way of escaping a tumultuous and often violent home life. In 1997, as a pitcher for Port St. Lucie High School, he was named "High School Player of the Year" by USA Today. By his major league baseball debut with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1999, he had racked up several pitching successes and respected titles in the minor leagues: He was named "best pitching prospect" in both the Carolina and Midwest Leagues; he was also the Carolina League's All-Star starting pitcher, Baseball America's first-team Minor League All-Star starting pitcher and the Cardinals' Minor League Player of the Year.

However, as is detailed in Chatter by Ethan Kross, in 2000 Ankiel suffered a debilitating battle with anxiety. His overwhelming negative self-talk, often referred to in baseball as "the yips," led to a meltdown in the 2000 postseason and rendered him completely unable to pitch in 2001. Thus began a tragic and frightening period of time for him, a time in which alcohol, persistent nightmares and a steady stream of daily anxieties dominated his life.

Ankiel ended up retiring as a pitcher, but he didn't completely turn his back on the sport that was his passion. Through continued and dedicated work with legendary baseball sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman, Ankiel began to emerge from under the weight of his fears and depression. In 2005, he became a professional outfielder as a Cardinals Double-A (the second-highest level of the minor leagues) player. He proved to be capable as an outfielder, and the Cardinals called him back up to the majors in 2007. On August 9, 2007, he hit a home run in his debut as a major league position player and he entered 2008 as a strong prospect for regular playing time with his St. Louis team. By the end of the 2008 season, Ankiel had racked up 25 home runs. Between 2007 and 2013, he hit a total of 74 homers and played season after season as an outfielder who could be counted on to fire the ball great distances with amazing accuracy.

As if winning an impressive victory over his negative internal chatter and succeeding at a comeback as an outfielder weren't enough, in 2018 Ankiel was considering another run at major league pitching. In an interview, he told Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports, "I have nothing to lose…I'm not afraid. I might as well try." Unfortunately, by July 2019, Ankiel had to end his attempt at a pitching comeback when after undergoing ligament surgery on his elbow his body didn't heal as quickly as he had hoped. However, despite the odds, his injury record and his notable history with anxiety, he admitted that he still wasn't ready to completely throw in the towel. In a fantastic illustration of optimism, he commented, "Right now, if you ask me today, I am done for sure…If you ask me four months from now, I don't know." It should come as no surprise that a man who conquered negative and debilitating mental chatter is also hopeful about overcoming physical hurdles.

Rick Ankiel in the dugout at Busch Stadium in 2008 (cropped), via Wikimedia Commons. Original photo by Barbara moore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Filed under People, Eras & Events

This "beyond the book article" relates to Chatter. It originally ran in February 2021 and has been updated for the February 2022 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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