Rick Ankiel pitches

Former St. Louis Cardinals’ pitcher Rick Ankiel is one of the featured speakers at the Friday, Aug. 26, keynote event for Missouri Book Festival. Ankiel will speak at the C.J. Burger Fine Arts Center of WHS. Tickets to the evening’s program are free.  Photo Courtesy of Major League Baseball.

The inaugural Missouri Book Festival’s keynote event will feature a heavy hitter — and pitcher.

Headlining the Friday, Aug. 26, event is Rick Ankiel, who started his career with the St. Louis Cardinals as a pitcher in 1999, only to be sidelined by an anxiety condition known as “the yips,” before returning for a successful career as an outfielder. 

Ankiel will discuss the ups and downs detailed in his book “The Phenomenon” at the keynote, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the C.J. Burger Fine Arts Center at Washington High School. He will also receive the “Show-Me Perseverance Award,” which recognizes a Missourian who has faced life-changing challenges and overcome obstacles to rise to greater heights, according to the event website.

Ankiel’s book will be available for purchase at the event, and he is expected to sign copies, said Kristy Stoyer, the festival’s chair.

John Brown, author of “Missouri Legends,” will interview Ankiel.

“It’s going to focus on the book he wrote and his career as a Cardinal, and the anxiety of being on the pitcher’s mound and how he came back from that playoff game where his pitches went, kind of, crazy,” Stoyer said. “I have not heard him speak, but I heard it’s a really great, inspiring story.”

Stoyer hopes Ankiel’s story will increase audience interest in not only reading his book but other inspirational biographies.

“It’s really about getting people interested in books and what they can learn,” she said. “It’s a really big story and an author who has made a really big impact nationwide.” 

Starting the event will be comedian Bill Chott, a St. Louis-area native. Chott played a mailman on the hit show “This is Us,” while also playing Mr. Laritate on Disney Channel’s “Wizards of Waverly Place,” with Selena Gomez. He previously appeared in the cast of the short-lived “Dana Carvey Show,” with future stars Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell and Robert Smigel, as well as writers Louis C.K. and Bob Odenkirk.

“He, I believe, is going to start it with a little bit of stand up,” Stoyer said. “And then John is going to talk to him a little bit about growing up in St. Louis and going off to L.A.”

Chott will receive the “Missouri Legends Award,” which recognizes a native Missourian “whose impact has been seen and felt around the country.” The award is based on Brown’s book.

Tickets for the keynote event are free, but registration is required. Visit missouribookfestival.com for more information on tickets and the schedule of events.

“I hope people grab their tickets early before they sell out,” Stoyer said. 

Friday’s festivities will conclude at 9 p.m. with an “Ultimate American Music Trivia” event at the 1869 Draft Room, 216 W. Front St. It will be hosted by Bill Clevlen, author of “The Ultimate American Music Bucket List.”

“It’s all free, you just go upstairs at the Draft Room, and teams can take part,” Stoyer said. “Those are our two kickoff events with the big festival on Saturday.”

The free festival continues Saturday, Aug. 27, with events primarily around downtown Washington. Saturday’s events run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Washington was recognized earlier this year by the Community Literacy Foundation for being a “Best Read Community in America” after local readers logged more than 1.5 million pages of in 2020. According to previous Missourian reporting, the combination of this achievement and the charms of downtown Washington architecture made the city the ideal location for this festival, according to organizers.

“Our goal is to increase awareness about literacy and how it can shape people and open your eyes to new things,” Stoyer said. 

The festival does not focus on Washington or Franklin County but the entire state, Stoyer said.

“But I think it’s exciting that it’s being hosted here in Washington,” she said. “I encourage people to check out all of the programming we have at the festival.”