Back on a busy day in the fall of 2015 at Cressey Sports Performance - Florida, I looked over and saw a "huddle" of our professional baseball players standing by the entrance to the gym in the middle of their training sessions. The music was pumping and there was a great training energy, so it had to be something good that had caught their attention. I was coaching on the other side of the gym, so I let my business partner, Brian, check it out.
A bit later, Brian walked back over, and I asked him what was up. "Rick Ankiel stopped by."
"Oh yeah?" Immediately, my brain went in a few different directions. I remembered that he was traded for long-time CSP client Tim Collins in 2010. I thought of some of the ridiculous throws Rick had made from the outfield during his "second" MLB career. I thought of how insane it was that he made it back to the big leagues as a hitter after his pitching career was cut short.
And, of course, I thought of how he'd been arguably the most storied case of "the yips" in my lifetime.
Before I could answer Brian in any more detail, though, I was cut off by one of our minor league guys.
"Rick's the man. He's helped me so much."
As it turned out, he had another role of which I wasn't aware. A year after his retirement, the Washington Nationals had hired him as a Life Skills Coordinator. There were a few Nationals players at the facility that day, and all of them raved about him.
As luck would have it, Rick lives in Jupiter, and he became a familiar face around the facility. It didn't take long for me to realize why all the guys were singing his praises. Rick's an awesome dude who is always smiling and has loads of great stories to tell. I joked that he's like the governor in a room full of baseball players, doling out fist bumps to minor leaguers and a bear hug to Max Scherzer. Just as importantly, though, Rick has a tremendous amount of wisdom to share - and the perfect demeanor for delivering impactful messages.
Rick and his wife Lory have become friends - and even neighbors - of ours. Our kids were at an Easter egg hunt with their kids on Saturday, and Lory has passed along school recommendations for my wife. Last month, Rick was kind enough to meet up with one of our high school pitchers who was struggling with command issues. The only guy in Major League Baseball history besides Babe Ruth to have 10 wins on the mound and 50 home runs at the plate is the most down-to-Earth person you'll ever meet. And, he's remained unconditionally positive in spite of a very tough childhood.
Where am I going with all of this? The yips don't discriminate. It doesn't matter if you're the nicest guy on the planet, the toughest guy in the locker room, the hardest working guy in the organization, or a remarkable athlete destined for success.
Now, many years later, Rick is opening up about what he went through in his awesome new book, The Phenomenon. It was released today, but I was fortunate to get to read through it ahead of time. It's absolutely fantastic.
Baseball players, coaches, parents, and fans will all appreciate this book.
It's a powerful story with a great reminder that baseball is a challenging game of millimeters that can humble even the best players very quickly. It's also proof that fans rarely have any idea what the athletes they see on TV are going through.
The term "must-read" gets thrown around all too often nowadays, but in this case, I really think it holds water. If you appreciate baseball in any way, you'll enjoy this book. You can pick it up HERE.
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