The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life by Rick Ankiel and Tim Brown, PublicAffairs, US $27.00, Pp 304, April 2017, ISBN 978-1610396868
St. Louis Cardinals prodigy Rick Ankiel lost his once-in-a-life ability to pitch in the middle of a playoff game as millions of people watched. It did not happen due to an injury or a bolt of lightning. It actually happened because of a mysterious anxiety condition known as “the Yips.” There was no warning. Ankiel’s true test came in the long days and nights that followed as he struggled to find his way back to the game. He struggled against Yips for the next four and a half years with psychotherapy, medication, deep-breathing exercises, self-help books, and vodka. Finally, at the age of twenty-five, Ankiel made an amazing turnaround and returned to the Major League as a hitter and played seven successful seasons. In The Phenomenon, Rick Ankiel, with the help of Tim Brown, tells his story about a universal experience – pressure – and what happened when he made a choice about who he was going to be.
Ankiel writes, “It is the story of a childhood that could not be trusted because of a father who could not be trusted, and the story of the arm that carried me away from years of snarling abuse. I was in the major leagues barely two years out of high school, a big league and celebrated phenomenon – that word – at twenty, and at twenty-one the starting pitcher in the highest game of the only life I ever wanted.” The Phenomenon is the story of what happened after that. Ankiel writes, “For on that very day, when I asked my arm to be more special than ever, it deserted me. Maybe I deserted it. For the next five years, I chased the life I wanted, the one I believed I owed to myself, the one I probably believed the world owed to me. To the gift that was my left arm. To the work I’d done to help make it special. To the life I thought I deserved.”
The Phenomenon is the story of his fight to return to the pitcher he was, a fight mounted on a psyche – a will – formed as protection against my own father. There were small victories. There were far more failures. Ankiel writes, “Those pushed me deeper into my own mind, into the dark fight-or-flight corners where the costs in happiness and emotional stability were severe. The fight of my childhood against a drunken, raging father had tracked me into manhood, and now the villain was within me, restless and relentless and just out of reach. For the life I wanted, I thrashed savagely and bled freely. There is a saying that goes loosely like this when the fight is over. There is no winning that fight. That fight never ends. I stood in for five years, then fought some more. I wish could have said at the end.” Ankiel writes, “I was the pitcher who’d contracted the yips at about the worst possible time, spent nearly five years fighting that with a determination that bordered on obsession, and turned up the hitter who could put a ball in the top deck and the outfielder whose arm was again golden.” It was all so marvelous and strange and, to the folks in St. Louis, damned lovable, so, yeah, bring back Rick Ankiel and put him again how they would forever honor his courage.
The Phenomenon is story of a young man’s struggle to fight his demons and succeed against all odds. It is a highly inspiring story of his pitching success. Rick’s message is you can succeed against all odds with your strong will and struggle. If you are losing hope for any reason, it will fill you with required hope.