Wow. He was a hard-nose player. Perhaps he often played harder than what his body could withstand. When he was a Red he left it all out on the field for sure. He was a good leadoff hitter, could swipe a base, and was versatile in the field. No wonder he was such a favorite for Reds fans. Unfortunately he didn't have much of a career after he left in the Hernandez trade.
Suicide at age 36. So sad.
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His time with Baltimore was short and not very sweet. In a game against Boston, he was a baserunner and took a throw off the head, which concussed him. I suspect he tried to come back too soon, and that contributed to his lousy play. He then made the mistake of basically asking why the Orioles picked him up, after which he was exiled to Kansas City.
The Orioles basically made a salary dump (Ramon Hernandez) for the Red's salary dump (Ryan Freel), but you got the idea Freel thought he was going to be playing a little here, a little there. He was also on his free agent walk year, and to find himself riding the pine in that situation was not what he wanted.
He played his butt off and got the most out of his ability. Sad to hear of his death.
Former big league utility man departed well before his time
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
When I think of Ryan Freel, I think of Farney.
Farney was the imaginary little man living in Freel's head. He was the reason, apparently, why it was not at all odd -- for those of us who had the pleasure of being around Freel during his playing days -- to see Freel talking to himself as he walked around the clubhouse or headed out to the field.
"Everybody thinks I talk to myself," Freel told the Dayton Daily News in 2006, "so I tell 'em I'm talking to Farney."
You never knew what to make of Freel. Or Farney, for that matter. A grown man owning up to an imaginary friend? That's either colorful and quirky or, well, a little frightening. And ultimately, "colorful, quirky and a little frightening" is probably the best way to describe Ryan Freel's personality.
Freel was found dead Saturday in his Jacksonville, Fla., home, the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, police told the Florida Times-Union. He was 36. And as is typically the case with suicide, the grief quickly gives way to the questions. And the questions force those of us who knew Freel to look back.
I covered the Reds in 2005 for MLB.com and, therefore, spent a lot of time around Freel. He was/is one of my favorite athletes I've dealt with in this business, for a number of reasons.
For one, Freel truly loved the sport he was paid to play, and we all know that this is not always a given. He compromised nothing in his effort or intensity in any game I saw him play. He took pride in being on the field and giving his all, much to the detriment of his battered body. And in that 2005 season, he was just beginning to see his utility role expanded into more of a consistent presence.
"I wish I could play 30 or 40 [games] in a row," he told me at that time. "I'm not looking for a day off. I don't want a day off."
An amateur psychologist would quickly suggest that the field of play was Freel's escape. Maybe there's something to that notion, maybe not. But Freel played the game with a reckless abandon -- head-first dives into the wall and warning track that, at the time, made you smile. Here in the aftermath of his death, however, the effects of his recklessness only open the door to another round of questions. Freel proved he would do anything to protect a lead in a baseball game, even if that meant damaging himself. How much damage did he do?
Freel once estimated that he had suffered "nine or 10" concussions in his career. And this was several years before his career ended.
The final factor that made Freel such a joy to cover: He was endearingly eccentric. The reporter-player relationship is often cordial and sometimes harmonious, but rarely does it reach the "bear hug" stage, as it so often did with Freel. You could hear his laugh a room away, and you knew he was always good for an honest and insightful quote.
While writing this piece, I was going through some old notes and stories from that '05 season, and what strikes me is the sheer number of times Freel is noted to have said or done something that demonstrates what a great teammate he was. There's mention of him encouraging Felipe Lopez when the two were both mired in a long slump at the plate ("This is the time when it's fun to play defense, right?"). There's a note about him telling a freshly promoted prospect there's "no pressure, so just come out swinging." There's a game story that mentions Freel sticking around to speak to reporters in an otherwise deserted clubhouse after a tough loss.
Freel's love of the game was infectious, and his love of his teammates was obvious. During his time with the Reds, he was especially generous in the community.
But there was another side to Freel, too. There were days when he was downright unapproachable, days where he'd sit alone at his locker for a long while, talking to no one, not even himself. And as my friend and fellow former Reds beat writer Marc Lancaster pointed out in his terrific remembrance on CBSsports.com, it was a consistent source of intrigue to see which Freel had shown up to work that day.
I don't know what led Freel to pull that trigger Saturday. It is easy for me to sit here and point to the concussions and the sullen days and see a pattern that could have followed him into retirement. I just know that in the brief period in which our paths crossed, I enjoyed getting to know Ryan Freel very much. And as such, I'll be thinking about him quite a bit this Christmas, and I'll be thinking about his family and praying they find peace.
Most of all, I'll be praying that those dealing with similar demons will find a better solution. It should never have to come to this.
Ryan Freel played for six seasons with the Reds organization, who took a chance on him that he never forgot. (Associated Press file photo)
December 23, 2012
Ryan Freel was born with Pete Rose-type baseball genes, minus the natural talent.
That’s what made Freel so popular with Cincinnati Reds fans, and it’s why the Reds once put together a Ryan Freel T-shirt giveaway with simulated dirt smudging the garment.
Freel never finished a game without dirt and grime on his uniform, to say nothing of his face and arms. And more often than not, the knees of his uniform pants were ripped.
He kept needle and thread in his locker to sew his own pants so as to not constantly bother the clubhouse personnel with his trivialities.
Like Rose, Freel would do anything to catch a ball and do anything to score a run or take an extra base. He was fearless at running into walls and once dove over the low railing down the right-field line in Dodger Stadium, landing in the lap of a woman sitting in the second row.
He caught the ball.
His hell-bent-for-destruction style also lead to a long series of concussions, which he kept quiet as much as possible.
After he dove for a ball in center field, cracked his head against the wall and suffered a concussion, his father called me about his son’s concussion history and said, “He has had nine or 10 concussions, going back to his high school days.”
When I wrote the story, Freel was incensed at his estranged father for telling me and at me for writing it, “Because you might be cutting my career short and baseball is all I have. And my father has never been part of my life and it isn’t his business.”
Freel was 32 at the time. Before the next season, in December 2008, Freel was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for catcher Ramon Hernandez.
During the 2009 season, he played for the Orioles, the Chicago Cubs and the Kansas City Royals, never catching any kind of the magic or fan admiration he enjoyed in Cincinnati.
The Royals released him in August, and he signed a minor league contract with the Texas Rangers and spent the rest of 2009 in the minors. In November of that year, he was granted free agency and never found a job.
At age 33, Freel’s baseball career was over, although he helped out last spring with the Reds Fantasy Camp in Goodyear, Ariz., and in 2010 tried to make a comeback in an independent league, but quickly gave it up.
On Saturday, Freel’s life ended at the age of 36, apparently by his own hand, at his Jacksonville, Fla., home, leaving his wife, Christie, and three children.
While listed at 5 feet 10 and 185 pounds, Freel probably was closer to 5-8, but his body was stuffed with energy, all of which he left daily on a baseball field.
Off the field, he was a complex figure. There were days when he was everybody’s friend, a large smile creasing his face and a hearty hello for everybody. And there were days when he’d walk past his closest friend with a frown on his face and a comment for nobody.
He didn’t like it when he thought a teammate wasn’t hustling, wasn’t giving it his all. At the team’s annual end-of-season party in Milwaukee, he and teammate D’Angelo Jimenez engaged in a fist fight when Freel challenged him about his perceived lack of all-out hustle on the field.
Freel playfully revealed to me one day that he had an alter ego who was constantly with him, constantly on his shoulder and in his mind, a little guy he called Farney.
“He’s the guy who does all the good things I do, and he’s the guy who tells me the good things to do,” Freel told me after he revealed his alter ego’s presence.
After making one incredible catch in the 2006 season, Freel said, “Farney is a little guy who lives in my head and talks to me and I talk to him. That little midget in my head said, 'That was a great catch,' and I said, 'Hey, Farney, I don’t know if that was you who really caught the ball, but that was pretty good if it was.' ”
Freel later regretted revealing that story because it followed him everywhere and became part of his being, more so than his reckless style of play.
He was raised by his Cuban-born mother in Jacksonville. She worked 16 hours a day, teaching and cleaning houses. Freel always gave her credit for his hardscrabble style.
And he loved the Reds for giving him a chance that nobody else was going to give him.
He was drafted in the 10th round in 1995 by the Toronto Blue Jays, but he never was considered a real prospect. He languished in the minors for five years before finally playing nine games for the Jays in 2001.
He was a free agent after the 2001 season and signed by the Tampa Bay Rays, but he spent the entire 2002 season in the minors. Again he became a free agent, and the Reds signed him before the 2003 season.
For the next six seasons, he was a big part of the Reds, mostly batting leadoff while playing all three outfield spots, second base and third base.
“And if they want me to catch, I’ll do that too,” he once said.
His name came up in trade rumors several times his last couple of years with the Reds, and he always said, “I don’t care who the other team is, I don’t want to go. The Reds are the only team to ever give me a chance and they are the only team I want to play for.”
Nevertheless, after Freel hit .272 with 22 homers, 114 RBI and 140 stolen bases during his time with the Reds, they traded him to the Orioles for Hernandez after the 2008 season.
And today, the baseball world cries for Ryan Freel.