Sports Outside the Beltway

The Rebirth of Rick Ankiel

No doubt you remember Rick Ankiel, the once highly touted pitching prospect of the St. Louis Cardinals. He rose quickly through minors, succeeding at every single stop. But when he reached the majors, his control left him. In the playoffs no less.

But that isn’t the only misfortune he suffered.

Rick Ankiel did not grow up in a ticky tacky little box out of Agrestic, California. Instead, he scraped by along with his mother, who dealt with an abusive spouse that was serving a prison sentence. His dad was serving time for drug smuggling while Rick was being scouted heavily by every Major League team. His half-brother was also in jail, and was arrested 28 times in a 6-year span. If you think the past few years were rough, you have no idea.

Which is why I am not surprised that Rick Ankiel has persevered and is once again successful on a team that is struggling to be a playoff contender. Ankiel took his agent’s advice (none other than Scott Boras), and put baseball in the back of his mind for a while. He headed out to SoCal to get away from it all. Boras was there for Ankiel when he needed him most (unlike IMG for Jennifer Capriati). He hung out with Ankiel in Southern California, set him up with other players, and also linked him with a sports psychologist.

(For more on Scott Boras’s operation, see here.)

Today Charles Krauthammer cheers Ankiel’s return in the Natural returns to St. Louis. (or here.)

The kid is never the same. He never recovers his control. Five miserable years in the minors trying to come back. Injuries. Operations. In 2005, he gives up pitching forever.

Then, last week, on Aug. 9, he is called up from Triple-A. Same team. Same manager. Rick Ankiel is introduced to a roaring Busch Stadium crowd as the Cardinals’ starting right fielder.

In the seventh inning, with two outs, he hits a three-run home run to seal the game for the Cardinals. Two days later, he hits two home runs and makes one of the great catches of the year — over the shoulder, back to the plate, full speed.

Krauthammer correctly writes that this catch was so spectacular because Ankiel misjudged the ball. Despite the recent heroics, Krauthammer expect normalcy to return.

He made the catch. The crowd, already delirious over the two home runs, came to its feet. If this had been a fable, Ankiel would have picked himself up and walked out of the stadium into the waiting arms of the lady in white — Glenn Close in a halo of light — never to return.

But this is real life. Ankiel is only 28 and will continue to play. The magic cannot continue. If he is lucky, he’ll have the career of an average right fielder. But it doesn’t matter. His return after seven years — if only three days long — is the stuff of legend. Made even more perfect by the timing: Just two days after Barry Bonds sets a synthetic home run record in San Francisco, the Natural returns to St. Louis.

By learning a new position and to hit while already in his twenties Ankiel has accomplished something really rare. Is it the start of a very good second career? It’s too early to tell. But you must want him to succeed.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad.

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Ambassador Cal Ripken

The State Department announced yesterday that Cal Ripken would become an unofficial ambassador for the United States.

Baseball Hall of Fame player Cal Ripken Jr. is taking his talents teaching kids the fundamentals of the sport to a higher level as a new U.S. State Department public diplomacy sports envoy.

Ripken’s first assignment will be visiting China October 28-November 6 to train Chinese youngsters in the Asian country’s budding baseball program.

Ripken, a shortstop and third baseman in his 21-year career with the Baltimore Orioles, said August 13 at the State Department that he plans to use his new position to bridge the gap between people of different languages and cultures.

Ripken will be the second “sports envoy” the first was figure skater, Michelle Kwan.

The first State Department public diplomacy sports envoy, figure skating star Michelle Kwan, recently returned from Russia on behalf of the United States, where her “message of working hard and dreaming big resonated with young people” in that country, said Hughes.

The Baltimore Sun has a little more on the program.

Cal Ripken Jr., who usually avoids the political arena, was named a State Department sports envoy yesterday. He plans to remain politically neutral even as he joins forces with the Bush administration to try to bolster America’s image overseas.

The former Orioles superstar said yesterday that he didn’t accept the unpaid post to make a political statement but rather to work with children from other nations on baseball.

He’s part of an effort, largely orchestrated by longtime Bush confidant Karen Hughes, to expand the role of athletes in diplomacy. The effort has included sending American wrestlers to Iran and naming figure skater Michelle Kwan as an envoy in 2006 and dispatching her to Russia and China.

The position is unpaid though the State Department will pay for Ripken’s travel.

The Sun brings up an additional quesiton, that isn’t particularly fair.

The Hall of Famer’s appearance with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others from the Bush administration raised the question: Can a sports celebrity enter a political world and still be apolitical?

To Ripken and spokesman John Maroon, the answer is yes. But not everyone is so sure. In Washington, it is hard to pose for pictures with Rice and Hughes – as a smiling Ripken did after delivering brief remarks yesterday – without political meaning being attached to the gesture.

“If I’m someone who is looking at those pictures, I am going to think Cal Ripken supports President Bush,” said Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman for Common Cause, a government watchdog group. “Ripken is obviously an incredibly popular baseball player and President Bush is unpopular, and you could ask the question: ‘Is he trying to boost his popularity?’”

It isn’t really a question now. If a Democrat is elected next year and Ripken immediately steps down, that would be a political statement. But nothing Ripken’s done or said suggests that there’s any political agenda here.

I’m not convinced that this program will work, however I have little doubt that if the State Department of President Kerry had initiated a similar program, that Ripken would have accepted a similar role. It’s all hypothetical now, of course, but the question is a little too cynical.

More at USA Today and ESPN.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad.

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  • Soccer Dad linked with Ambassador cal ripken...

2008 NFL Mock Draft

Sure, the 2007 NFL Draft just ended two days ago and teams haven’t even signed all their undrafted free agents or started training camp. Still, it’s never too early to start thinking about 2008. Especially if your team sucks. This means you, Oakland. And Cleveland.

The folks at FanNation have you covered. They’ve already predicted the order of finish and who each of the 32 teams will draft in the first round, presuming they didn’t trade away their 1st round pick to the Cowboys.

# 1. Raiders: Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas – McFadden ran for 182 yards against LSU, which is basically an NFL team. Character questions, but these are the Raiders.
# 2. Texans: Jake Long, OT, Michigan – After Matt Schaub gets sacked as often as David Carr, Houston realizes it’s still got a problem.
# 3. Vikings: Brian Brohm, QB, Louisville – Strong running game, and no passing game translates to 4-12 for the Vikes in 2007.
# 4. Lions: Calais Campbell, DE, Miami – I was tempted to put the top WR on the board here, but Matt Millen may not be around to run the draft.
# 5. Buccaneers: Sam Baker, LT, USC – Will this be the first pick of the post-Gruden era?
# 6. Dolphins: Chad Henne, QB, Michigan – The ‘Fins make up for controversial ’07 pick of an Ohio State WR by taking a Michigan QB. You have to love the symmetry.
# 7. Cardinals: Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida – Pass-rushers are always valuable.
# 8. Titans: Kenny Phillips, S, Miami – Phillips gets the edge over Antoine Cason.
# 9. Cowboys (via Browns): Tyson Jackson, DE, LSU – Strong D-lineman for Wade Phillips’ defense.
10. Falcons: Limas Sweed, WR, Texas – Tempted to go QB here, but only if the Falcons are bad enough to get Brohm.

For picks 11-32, click the link. Surely, some of the teams that picked high this year will get better. As a Dallas fan, I’m hoping it’s not Cleveland, though. I’d really like to have the #1 overall pick . . . along with #32.

via Tim McMahon of DMN

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Dallas Cowboys 2007 Undrafted Free Agent Signings

NFL Draft Logo 2007 The Dallas Cowboys have signed undrafted University of Houston running back Jackie Battle to a three year contract and have also come to terms with his teammate, tight end Rodney Hannah, the Houston Chronicle reports.

DMN’s Todd Archer says the team has also signed Oregon State quarterback Matt Moore, Florida center Steve Rissler, Oregon linebacker Blair Phillips and Boise State receiver Jerard Babb. His commenters are particularly excited about Moore, although it’s going to be hard for him to make the roster.

Other signings and the stats on all of them so far:

    Matt Moore – QB – Oregon State – 6’3” – 192 – 4.92
    Steve Rissler – C – Florida – 6’3” – 306
    Blair Phillips – LB – Oregon – 6’2” – 246
    Jerard Rabb – WR – Boise State – 6’2” – 201 – 4.60
    Alonzo Coleman – RB – Hampton – 5’10” – 207 – 4.36
    Jackie Battle – FB – Houston – 6’2” – 235 – 4.42
    Ola Dagunduro – NT – Nebraska – 6’2” – 310
    Mike Jefferson – WR – Montana State – 6’2” – 195
    Robert Turner – OL – New Mexico – 6’4” – 313
    Rodney Hannah – TE – Houston – 6’8” – 245


2007 NFL Draft Grades

NFL Draft Logo 2007 Below are some expert analyses of Day 1 of the 2007 NFL Draft. I’ll update the list over the next couple of days as more roll in.

Note: Bumped to top from 6:54 am April 29.

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Brady Quinn a Safe Pick

NFL draft guru Rick Gosselin thinks people are selling Brady Quinn short.

Brady Quinn Notre Dame Photo  Quarterback Brady Quinn was a four-year starter at Notre Dame. There hasn’t been a college quarterback more prepared to enter than NFL since Peyton Manning in 1998. There is no bust factor in Quinn.

History tells us that. In the last 10 years, the NFL has used 10 first-round picks on quarterbacks who were four-year starters in college. Only one washed out – Cade McNown, who was the fifth quarterback selected in that Class of 1999.

Of those 10 four-year starters, five have become Pro Bowlers: Culpepper, McNabb, Manning , Carson Palmer (drafted in 2003) and Philip Rivers (2004). Two have won NFL passing titles, Manning and Chad Pennington (drafted in 2000), and two have been to Super Bowls, Manning and McNabb.

Seven are currently starting: Manning, McNabb, Pennington, Palmer, Rivers, Jason Campbell (drafted in 2005) and Jay Cutler (2006).

Kyle Boller (drafted in 2003) lost his starting job in 2006 when the Baltimore Ravens signed former NFL MVP Steve McNair in free agency. Boller left the lineup with a winning NFL record (18-16) and more TD passes (36) than interceptions (34). He remains in Baltimore as a backup. Culpepper lost his starting position at Miami in 2006 because of a knee injury.

There’s a school of thought that one of every two quarterbacks selected in the first-round of NFL drafts is a bust. But the deck is stacked in favor of those four-year starters for NFL survival.

It’s a great point. Almost all the big name busts–Ryan Leaf and Tim Couch come readily to mind–skipped their senior seasons. I don’t know that Quinn is going to be a great NFL quarterback. And, thankfully, there’s zero chance that the Dallas Cowboys will draft him, so I don’t have to lose any sleep over it. But he’ll almost certainly be a decent quarterback for years to come.

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Diver Sets New World Free-Diving Record

I have to admit this is pretty impressive.

William TrubridgeThe 27-year-old from Hawkes Bay reached an unassisted free-dive depth of 81m, shaving a metre off the previous record set by Czech diver Martin Stepanek in 2005.

Trubridge achieved the feat yesterday in his adopted homeland of the Bahamas. In setting the record, Trubridge retrieved a tag – attached to a descending rope at a depth of 81m – without the assistance of fins, ropes or weight belts.

He had been building up to the unassisted free-dive world record for the past two years, and was ecstatic at having achieved it.


Kurtzer and more …

I knew about the fledgling Israel Baseball League; I did not know that Dan Duquette was involved.

The other big name involved in the league is Dan Kurtzer, formerly U.S. Ambassador to Egypt and Israel (as well as Dean of students at Yeshiva University.)

The Israel Baseball League website has links to a number of background articles about its founding. There’s also a Bible and baseball contest that allows entrants to win souveneir prizes from the league. (It would not be enough to submit “In the big inning …” as an entry.)

One of the rotating links at the side of the website brings you to Jewish Major Leaguers, that, among other things, has produced a set of baseball cards of Jewish ballplayers.

I guess I’ll have to root for my brother’s home team Bet Shemesh Blue Sox.

Crossposted at Soccer Dad.


Those Glowing Uniforms

The latest trend in sports arenas are LCD ribbons that blast fans with even more bright lights and more ways to shoot advertisements onto fans’ retinas. Imagine if a kaleidoscope of media were projected from the athletes themselves. That may be the way of the future with this Australian invention as the start:

Basketball vests (singlets) with electroluminescent displays that show a player’s score, and number of fouls, are being trialled in Australia.

The vests can also display more general information, like the amount of time left in a game. This gives players greater confidence in their team’s tactics, say the researchers involved.

The simple, coloured display panels are attached to each vest and connected to a small computer, about the size of an iPod, strapped to each player’s body. These computers communicate wirelessly with a central control system, installed at the side of the court, which keeps track of all relevant statistics as the game goes on.

I envision LCD-like fabrics with the ability to put NASCAR-marketing to shame.

[via Engadget]


Jamie Gold wins World Series of Poker

Former Hollywood agent Jamie Gold survived a field of 8,773 to win the World Series of Poker and its grand prize of $12 million.


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