Suddenly, in the eighth inning, the game that means so much to so many meant nothing at all when the Cardinals’ center fielder Rick Ankiel lost his balance making a great catch, crashing head first into the left center field wall.
Ankiel’s neck twisted viciously upon contact, the full weight of his body instantly halted from a forward running stumble. The outfielder crumpled onto this back, his body already motionless as he lay on the dirt of the outfield warning track, the ball, which he had somehow transferred to his throwing hand after the catch, just then dribbling off his fingertips.
Fellow outfielder, Chris Duncan raced toward the scene, his steps and mannerisms suggesting he was conflicted as to whether to instinctively go after the baseball or assist his downed teammate. Even as Duncan scooped up the ball with his gloved left hand, his right hand was gently clutching a bit of Ankiel’s jersey, saying something before continuing the play.
A loud Ewww sounded from the crowd, followed by a silence you only hear at Busch Stadium before the bulk of Cardinal Nation arrives on game day. Eerie, uncomfortable, the audible emptiness replaced by the lingering gut-wretch of witnessing the obvious injury.
Simultaneously scary and sickening, for everyone, including the visiting Philadelphia Phillies, whose dugout was filled with players riveted at the gathering of Cardinals players and coaches around their fallen teammate. Most of those in attendance stood for nearly twenty minutes, distracted only briefly by the Cardinals’ trainer racing across the field to Ankiel’s aid, then the team’s doctor coming onto the scene, then later, when staff drove out a motorized cart loaded with a backboard stretcher.
And then, after what seemed like an eternity of anguishing minutes, the cart was rolling toward the right field exit with medical staff and Ankiel aboard.
A moment of relief was then provided by Ankiel himself as he was driven through right field, when he lifted his left hand, giving a thumb’s up. The movement and the gesture broke an almost unbearable anxiety, but as Ankiel and staff disappeared under the right field seats, Cardinal Nation was left with a lingering concern over Ankiel’s well-being.
Before that, events that seemed like a distant memory from some other game: Lohse had pitched well, then struggled, Ryan Howard hat hit a grand slam, and Tyler Greene had made a sensational play at shortstop.
Ankiel also made a sensational play, but all anyone cared about was obtaining any scrap of post-game information regarding his condition.
At the time of this posting, x-rays and CT scans upon Ankiel were all reported as negative by the St. Louis Cardinals. Good news, so far.
But somehow, no matter what is reported to Cardinal Nation, the unease will continue until all can see that Rick Ankiel is okay.
photo by Barbara Moore