Ankiel was one of the top pitching prospects in baseball in the late 1990s, a second-round draft pick who was elevated to the majors at age 19 after two impressive seasons in the minors. He went 11-7 in 2000 at age 20, finishing the year with a 3.50 ERA and coming in second place in NL Rookie of the Year voting. Ankiel also pitched three games in the 2000 NL playoffs, but he fell apart that postseason and was never the same as a pitcher.
He continued to have control problems the next year, eventually had Tommy John surgery and finally resurfaced as a center fielder. But even then, he only made it through two full seasons with the Cardinals before leaving as a free agent in 2009.
It was a strange journey for the one-time top prospect, and before his first game as a visitor in St. Louis, Ankiel made sure to express his gratitude to Cardinals fans for standing by him.
The Nationals outfielder bought a full-page ad in Wednesday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch, thanking Cardinals fans for their support. Below a large picture of Ankiel, the ad read, "Many Thanks to Cardinals' fans and the City of St. Louis for your support and cheers over the years. It was a privilege and an honor."
Ankiel went 1-for-4 Wednesday in the first game of the Nationals' doubleheader with the Cardinals, and came back with a 2-for-4 showing in the second game, driving in a run, stealing a base and scoring another run. The Nationals won the first game 8-6 before losing the nightcap 5-3.
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