A lesson about life comes on ballfield

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

"Either you deliver the goods or you don't."

Despite what you are about to read, today's column is not about baseball. Sure, I'll take a lesson from this baseball tale. But the real lesson is about life and choices and failures. Ultimately it's about facing the time when you simply have to give up. Baseball or life, that's a hard lesson.

St. Louis Cardinal fans will recognize Rick Ankiel. Few pitchers in recent history held as much promise and potential as Ankiel. The young left-hander had it all. As a rookie - and a young rookie at that - Ankiel won 11 games for the Redbirds during the 2000 season. He was heralded as the next superstar and rightfully so. Rick Ankiel had the tools and the credentials to step into the spotlight and win the hearts of baseball fans throughout the country.

And then something happened.

For some reason as yet unexplained, Rick Ankiel changed. He lost his control and to a major league baseball pitcher, control is the key to victory. Not only did Rick Ankiel lose his control, he lost it in spectacular fashion. His wild pitches came by the bushel. His lack of control and his errant arm made for television highlight reels. If you weren't talking about a real person and a real career going down the drain, it would have actually been funny. But none of that really matters. Rick Ankiel had mysteriously unraveled overnight.

Ankiel returned to the Cardinals briefly for the 2001 season but his control was worse than ever. His ERA (earned run average) was a whopping 7.13 and he walked 25 batters in only 24 innings of professional baseball. But any measure, Ankiel was headed nowhere fast.

But the Cardinals were still convinced that the young lefty had potential. All he needed - or so they thought - was a stint in the minor leagues, a little less pressure because of his young age, and a bit more experience to harness his control. So Ankiel made that lonely trip to the minor leagues of professional baseball.

First he stopped in Memphis for the Cardinals minor league team. But he lost both of his games there and his ERA ballooned to an astounding 20.77. So he was demoted to the lowest rung of the professional baseball ladder in Johnson City, Tenn. He fared better there but remained a shadow of the superstar that he should have been.

Well that brings us up to today. On Monday, Ankiel got shelled again and dropped his season's record to 1-4 in AA baseball. His team lost and Ankiel still had troubles with his control. He has allowed more earned runs than innings pitched this year. For those unfamiliar with baseball, that's a miserable record for anyone, much less someone who had the promise of Rick Ankiel.

Now here's the lesson in life and choices that I promised. And it has little to do with baseball.

We all face choices daily in our lives and our businesses. And sometimes, as tough as it is to face, we have to accept the fact that some potential will simply never materialize. And when that day arrives, we have to face tough choices. I doubt Rick Ankiel will ever again grace a Cardinal uniform. That's truly unfortunate. But potential and promise must give way to reality at some point in our lives. Either you deliver the goods or you don't. And if you don't, everyone must face a choice.

Having the potential to deliver something and actually making good on that promise are two different issues. The difficulty of course is exactly what the Cardinals now face. And in our own ways, it's a choice we face too.

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