Rick Ankiel hired by Nationals as ‘life skills coordinator’
The already unusual baseball career of Rick Ankiel is taking another turn nobody predicted back when he was a 19-year-old fireballer.
The Washington Nationals announced Wednesday that they’ve hired Ankiel to serve as the “life skills coordinator” in their minor-league system. It’s a new position for the Nats and a sign that they think Ankiel’s odd career arc will make him someone to lean on for their young players.
Ankiel arrived in the big leagues in 1999, throwing gas for the St. Louis Cardinals while he was just 19. He threw 33 innings that season, striking out 39 batters and proving himself an exciting prospect.
The next season, he was a Rookie of the Year runner-up, but he famously cracked in the postseason and couldn’t throw strikes. He was even worse the next season, getting sent all the way down to rookie ball because of his control problems. In three Triple-A appearances in 2001, he walked 17 batters in 4.1 innings. Ouch.
Ankiel needed Tommy John surgery in 2003, returned to the big leagues briefly in 2004, but things got interesting in 2006, when he decided to reinvent himself as an outfielder. He had a great arm and could hit, so it made sense. He was never an All-Star, but lasted seven seasons as an outfielder for the Cardinals, Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves among others, before retiring in 2013.
Ankiel played two seasons with the Nats too, and obviously made an impression.
Even though Ankiel seems like he should be older, he’s just 35 — young enough, you have to figure, that he can connect with prospects. The Nats haven’t released too much information about the specifics of Ankiel’s role, but the idea of a “life skills coordinator” for athletes isn’t unique. Some universities have such a position to help their student-athletes. California State University, Long Beach, for example, recently posted a job for one.
The job will be different for Ankiel and the Nats, presumably, because minor-league baseball is a grind all its own. But Ankiel has already proven once that he can learn a new position.
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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz