Quitters Never Win … Or Do They?
Rick Ankiel, a former major league ballplayer, was speaking with Terry Gross on NPR the other day in what I found to be a fascinating interview. Once a top prospect as an extraordinarily gifted pitcher, Ankiel wrestled with loss of control as a result of anxiety stemming from wild pitches thrown during his time as a St. Louis Cardinal pitcher from 1999 until 2001. To listen to Ankiel describe how lost and desperate he felt during this period was painful.
“If you get out of whack, you have something that gets you back to normal,” Ankiel told Gross in his recent interview. “Nothing was working and I couldn’t figure it out. When I came back the next year, it was in me deeper and darker than it was before.”
Ankiel called it the “yips” - the psychological effect that causes the body’s mechanical breakdown. Reoccurring nightmares of not being able to throw a strike haunted him.
He turned to alcohol to self-medicate, but the anxiety overcame the stimulant effect and his worries found their way into his numbed state. He knew he had to face the music.
Ankiel was sent down to the rookie leagues where the pressure of the spotlight was removed and healing could begin. He employed exercise and meditation as tools to keep his head clear and body in the game. Remarkably, he climbed his way back into the major leagues but not without taking the joy out of the game.
So Ankiel made a choice - he quit.
“I immediately felt this giant relief, like this big weight had been taken off my chest and my shoulders and I could take a deep breath,” Ankiel recalls. “And it was - I had inner peace.”
Ankiel’s decision, however gratifying, was not to satisfy him for long. Within an hour he had a phone call from the Cardinals, asking him if he would consider staying on as an outfielder, an opportunity not afforded often to pitchers. He decided to take the risk, to stay in the game he loved so well, and try to learn the game without the mental stress of pitching.
Deciding to quit pitching was perhaps the strongest decision Ankiel could make. It allowed him to step away from a position that required him to be in command every moment and instead make a move that allowed him to experience once again the fun of the game of baseball. He retired as a player in 2013 with 76 career home runs.
As a parent and a coach, I certainly feel strongly that one should not quit easily. However, quitting can also being a strong, respectable choice when it allows someone to reevaluate their God-given gifts and their purpose.
Hearing Ankiel tell of his journey reminds me to listen. Listen to the messages that are sent our way to use our gifts, our talents, our lives for the glory of God. We often have a mindset that we must be what we once thought we should or were told we should be. Have faith that God will guide us where we need to be.
Special prayers go out to our high school and college graduates this month as they start their next journey in life. Be brave as you listen to God’s call and follow the path that will make the best use of your talents.