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Rick Ankiel discusses time with Nationals at FanFest

July 15, 2018

Rick Ankiel is a proponent of “Cardinal Way” baseball.

The St. Louis Cardinals drafted Ankiel in the second round of the 1997 MLB Draft, and the pitcher-turned-outfielder spent seven seasons in the big leagues with the Cardinals. In that time, he grew fond of the well-run system, part of the reason the club has the second most World Series titles. The same plays are run throughout each level of the organization, from low-A ball to Busch Stadium. Coaches are detail oriented.

When Jayson Werth called Ankiel in 2010 after the former Philadelphia Phillies star signed with the Washington Nationals, Werth tried to convince Ankiel to bring the Cardinal Way to the District of Columbia. Ankiel joined Werth and played 190 games for Washington, a short-lived but key figure in creating what could be dubbed the Nationals’ way.

“It wasn’t there before because they had lost for so long,” Ankiel said Saturday at the MLB All-Star FanFest at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. “Losing was kind of being expected. Once Jayson came there, he really tried to get in that, you know, winning is the only way, and we need to take this responsibility upon ourselves. And certainly, I was with the Cardinals for 11 years and trying to bring what I learned there [to Washington].”

Ankiel appeared at FanFest and answered questions from fans about his career. While he was predominantly known for his work with St. Louis, he recounted his experience with the Nationals and gave his take on Washington’s current season.

Once Ankiel joined in 2011, he platooned in the outfield with Roger Bernadina. The 38-year-old hit .236 over two seasons in D.C. and provided solid defense. Ankiel committed one error in 113 games in the outfield in 2011. Now, the Nationals haven’t had a losing season since Ankiel’s first with the club.

Despite the caliber of Washington’s 2018 roster, injuries and underperformances have sunk the Nationals into third place in the National League East. One fan questioned if there was enough spark on the team.

“You have more than a few guys having down years, and it’s hard to have a down year and be the rah-rah guy,” Ankiel said. “Winning cures a lot of things. They haven’t been winning. They know they’re a good team. That adds pressure in itself, although you wish you could say, ‘Let’s put ourselves in a mindset for that not to matter.’ But it does, because they know coming into this year that they were picked to win the World Series.”

Even with Ankiel’s intention to turn around Washington’s organization, the allure of a well-timed loss crept into his mind in the bottom of the ninth inning August 28, 2011, against Cincinnati. His first child had just been born, and the next day was an off day. He planned to fly to Florida to visit his family, but the threat of extra innings also threatened his ability to catch his flight.

So, when Drew Storen allowed a drive into right-center field, which got past Werth and bounced off the wall, a measure of doubt crept into Ankiel’s mind before he threw out Dave Sappelt at third.

“I’m thinking, ‘I can just throw this off line, they can probably score and I’m making this flight,’” Ankiel said. “But as I’m grabbing it, I’m like, ‘There’s no way I can do this to my pitcher,’ and gave it everything I had.”

Just as the 11-year veteran always did.

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