Sunday, December 23, 2012

Remembering the playing career of late Reds utilityman Ryan Freel

The Reds family was hit with some tragic news on Saturday night as it was learned that former utilityman Ryan Freel had died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. The news was received with great sadness and surprise among Reds nation. However, he leaves behind a plethora of exciting moments and memories that brought joy to the fans who witnessed him play.

Freel played eight seasons (2001-09) in the Major Leagues with five different organizations, but the bulk of his playing career came as a member of the Redlegs (2003-08). The Jacksonville, Fla. native enjoyed a reputation among his peers and fans as being scrappy, hard-nosed, energetic and fun-loving. His all-out hustle and passionate style of play made him an endearing fan favorite around the city of Cincinnati.

Freel proved to be a valuable player to the franchise during his time spent in the Queen City. His versatility was second-to-none as he had the ability to play several defensive positions. Although center field was his primary home, he also locked down right field, third base, second base, and left field at times throughout his Reds career. In 544 career games a Red, the speedster recorded a slash line of .272/.357/.377 with 140 stolen bases, 294 runs scored, and 509 hits.

His tenure in Cincinnati ended in December 2008 when the club dealt him to the Baltimore Orioles along with two prospects in exchange for catcher Ramon Hernandez. The Orioles ultimately traded him to the Chicago Cubs the following May. Two months later, in July, the Kansas City Royals plucked him away from the Cubs before eventually releasing him just five weeks later.

The diminutive utility player had his baseball career cut short due to a succession of injuries, most of which involved head-related trauma.

He was hit in the head by a pickoff throw in 2009, an injury that put him on the disabled list. Two years earlier he went on the disabled list for five weeks with head and neck injuries after colliding in the outfield with teammate Norris Hopper. He said at the time that he'd had "probably nine or 10" concussions in his life.

Freel aborted a comeback attempt in 2010 when he left the independent Somerset Patriots of the Atlantic League during spring training. After retiring, Freel returned to Jacksonville, his hometown, and coached youth players for an organization called Big League Development. He was named head coach of St. Joseph Academy in June but resigned shortly after taking the job.

The Reds issued the following statement regarding Freel's passing: "The Reds family is deeply saddened to hear of the death of Ryan Freel. His teammates and our fans loved him for how hard he played the game, and he loved giving back to the community. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends."

Reds Hall of Fame first basemen Sean Casey and Freel's former teammate, tweeted about his death: "RIP Ryan Freel!! Great teammate, great guy, and loved his family! Such a sad day today with his passing! Awful news! Prayers are with his family!"

I believe Redlegs Review staff writer Jesse Welte said it pretty well when he tweeted the following after hearing the news: "RIP Ryan Freel. That dude was so fun to watch. He wasn't the best but he gave it his all and the jersey was always dirty."

Freel was most definitely a throwback type of player in a modern age when those players are found too few and far in between anymore. His pursuit of fly balls without regard to the risk of personal injury and fearless attempts at swiping a bag will forever be ingrained in the minds and hearts of Reds fans everywhere. Thanks for the memories, Ryan. And may you rest in peace.

Freel leaves behind a wife and three young daughters.

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