Ryan Freel was always a favorite of mine. So much that one night, I felt compelled to add him as a Facebook friend. In fact, whatever occurred between today and yesterday was not something that I would think was planned all along by Freel. As of yesterday, Freel had added a submission to The Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Field fan page stating “Let me know if I can help in anyway……”
I lived in Cincinnati in 2004 and 2005. I spent countless summer nights by myself at the ballpark, where I saw Freel up close and nearly felt like I knew him. Those years would coincide with the finest seasons of Freel’s MLB career. Over three seasons, he was a fixture at the top of the Reds lineup that desperately needed a leadoff man and stole 103 bases from 2004 to 2006. He played every position on the diamond except for first base and shortstop. He was a hustling, down and dirty throwback of a renaissance man.
I got the feeling that Freel; in all his battling from the dusty fields of the minor leagues, was a guy who never forgot where he came from.
A short story I never about Freel that might illustrate that comes to mind. One night I was sitting in the first row of the seats on the Reds dugout. A guy next to me was someone from Freel’s past; a coach, a friend, someone who had known Ryan for some time and had traveled a long way to see him play in Cincinnati from what I gathered. Freel was finishing a few warm-up tosses when he noticed the guy and he nodded and came over and spoke to him. He told the guy to hold on a second, popped into the dugout and emerged from it with a couple game used bats for the guy and his kid.
He was likable and approachable to Reds fans. He played the game like a warrior, running through walls and generally having no reservations about his own health when it came to stealing a bag or making a play. One night at Great American Ball Park the giveaway was Ryan Freel dirty t-shirt jersey night. I still have that shirt somewhere in my dresser with the dirt stains down the front covering Freel’s number six to commemorate his head first slide.
My thoughts and my prayers go out to Ryan’s family and friends tonight. This is a terrible and senseless thing.