Ryan Freel, a utility player known for his fearless approach over an eight-year baseball career spent mostly with the Cincinnati Reds, died Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla., of what authorities said was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Freel, 36, had stints with five major-league teams, including the Baltimore Orioles. His career, though, was cut short by head and other injuries and he estimated that he had suffered 10 concussions because of his all-out style of play. The final image of his time with the O’s, the Baltimore Sun’s Dan Connolly writes, “was one of potential tragedy: Freel remaining motionless on the Fenway Park basepaths after being hit in the right side of the head by an errant Justin Masterson pickoff throw during a game on April 20, 2009. Freel had to be helped off the field, stayed overnight in a Boston hotel, was placed on the disabled list with head trauma and never played for the Orioles again — traded less than three weeks later to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Joey Gathright.”
In July 2007, he spent five weeks on the DL with head and neck injuries after an outfield collision. He suffered headaches and memory impairment, then had season-ending knee surgery the next month.
In addition to his all-out play, he was known for his sense of humor, once telling the Dayton Daily News about an imaginary friend named Farney. “He’s a little guy who lives in my head who talks to me and I talk to him,” he said. “That little midget in my head said, ‘That was a great catch, Ryan.’ 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, who also had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, had had problems with alcohol. In 2005, he pleaded guilty to driving under the influence and in 2006, he was charged with misdemeanor disorderly intoxication. Freel in later years said he had stopped drinking.
“I have not had a sip of alcohol in [almost] three years,” he told the Sun in 2009. “I definitely learned from that. Me and drinking probably wasn’t a good thing. Kicking that whole thing was probably the best thing to happen for me, my family and my career.”
The Reds, in a statement, said:
“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.”
Freel is survived by his wife, Christie, and three young daughters.