We're gonna get this out of the way first thing, so we can all move on with our days, OK? Thank you. So, Rick Ankiel.
We were scheduled to fly out of LaGuardia Airport to St. Louis about 2:45 yesterday, and once we learned Rick was coming, we called our friends we were staying with and decided to go to the game. We were scheduled to land at 4:30 Central Time. Plenty of time. Unfortunately, thanks to the freaking tornado that landed in Brooklyn late Tuesday night, all the flights were delayed, and we sat on the LGA tarmac for two hours, sitting next to a 94-year-old woman who called us "a handsome boy."
We landed at Lambert right before first pitch; we cabbed it directly to the stadium, and, sadly, missed Ankiel's first at-bat. But we hung in, and then the eighth inning came, and then ... well, you saw it.
We're not gonna get all emotional here, because we figure we've already exhausted your patience will all this, so just a few notes from the night.
• Ankiel is wearing No. 24. This is now the third different number Ankiel has worn for the Cardinals. He wore 66 when he initially pitched, 49 when he made his first comeback and now 24. Twenty four makes him look more like a hitter, like how a wide receiver wearing No. 6 looks faster than a guy wearing No. 84.
• Ankiel looked completely overmatched in his first three at-bats. And then the pitch he hit ... we have no idea how he flicked that over the wall. It was one thing to hear about Ankiel hitting home runs in bunches down in AAA; it was another thing to actually see it. The whole evening was surreal.
• We've never seen Tony LaRussa so excited. Ever. Afterwards, LaRussa said that, after Adam Wainwright's strikeout to win the World Series, it was the best moment he's had in a Cardinals uniform. We're not quite ready to go that far, but still.
• After the game, we stopped by Jack Buck's new restaurant — ominously called J. Buck's — at watched ESPNews. In the bottom right hand corner, it said, "BECKHAM PLAYS 21 MINUTES; ANKIEL HOMERS IN FIRST GAME BACK." Rick Ankiel, our Rick Ankiel, was a news alert on ESPN; this was like seeing your sister's wedding announcement show up on the crawl. ESPN, being ESPN, made sure to bookend the homer with clips of Ankiel in the 2000 postseason. You know how, a few months afer 9/11, the networks collectively decided footage of that day was too intense to just casually toss on television? ESPN should do that with the Ankiel 2000 video.
• But yes. The Natural. Young Musial. We don't know how the rest of this Ankiel experiment is gonna turn out, but for one night, one majestic night, it was perfect. So perfect, in fact, that we're gonna try it again tonight. As we've said before: If there's hope for Rick Ankiel, there's hope for all of us.