Ankiel eyeing comeback as reliever in '19

August 7th, 2018
St. Louis Cardinals Rick Ankiel pitches in the fifth ining against the Arizona Diamondbacks Sunday, Sept. 19, 2004 in St. Louis. Ankiels's relief appearance is his first at home since 1991. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)TOM GANNAM/AP

Rick Ankiel is ready to kick his Major League comeback attempt into gear.

After telling Yahoo Sports' Tim Brown last week that he was "toying with" the idea of trying to return to the pros as a pitcher -- more than five years removed from his last Major League game and nearly 14 years after his last pitching appearance -- the 39-year-old was more definitive Monday in a TV appearance on Fox Sports Midwest, saying he's serious about making a comeback on the mound.

"I'm starting to get the itch," Ankiel said. "And you know, when I take a look at pros and cons, I can make a whole list of pros. I've got nothing on the cons. Zero.

"My kids want to see me play. I'm at a place now, personally, I couldn't care less if I throw the ball off the backstop. It really doesn't matter. We've talked about it. And when you take a look at baseball, the game has swung back around to my style of pitching -- you talk about the big curveball, fastballs up. So I feel like, why not come back as a lefty reliever and put one more chapter in the book?"

Ankiel's initial comments came after he pitched in relief -- and struck out the only batter he faced with a high fastball -- in the Bluegrass World Series in Louisville, Ky., where his team of former big leaguers faced off against college teams.

Pitching in an amateur tournament is far from the same as being in professional game shape, but Ankiel said Monday that he plans to take the next three to four months to get into the best pitching shape he possibly can, and "see what it feels like."

Any sort of professional pitching comeback for Ankiel would be an amazing success story, not just due to his age and time out of the Majors, but because of the anxiety issues he has dealt with on the mound in the past.

The left-hander's final Major League pitching appearance came on Oct. 1, 2004. He's one of baseball's most prominent players to have dealt with "the yips." After finishing second in National League Rookie of the Year voting for the Cardinals in '00, Ankiel famously lost control of the zone during the postseason that year. He threw five wild pitches in one inning of Game 1 of the NL Division Series against the Braves and threw five more pitches to the backstop in his next start in Game 2 of the NL Championship Series against the Mets.

The yips derailed a promising pitching career, but Ankiel managed to convert into a slugging outfielder and make it back to the big leagues with St. Louis in 2007. He had two 20-homer seasons and played until '13.

Now, Ankiel works with players who are suffering from similar issues, and he has been throwing regularly as he coaches them. That's what got a comeback attempt on his mind, as the ball continued to feel good coming out of his hand. Brown reported that Ankiel's fastball topped out at 89 mph during his Bluegrass World Series cameo.

"I want to take this seriously," Ankiel said Monday. "If I feel like I can suppress the anxiety -- which I feel like I can -- and everything's a go, I feel like, why not?"