Ryan Freel: 1976-2012
Like many of you, I was just incredibly saddened when I heard the news Saturday that former Reds player Ryan Freel died from suicide at the young age of just 36. I know he had young kids and it’s just awful to get news like that.
My first season covering the Reds was 2006, which happened to be the year Freel first became a regular in Cincinnati after a few tenuous seasons as a utility guy. As a new writer on the beat, I really appreciated how nice and accessible Freel was. He seemed to trust me rather quickly and we always seemed to get along well.
You could definitely say Freel left it all on the field — perhaps too much sometimes. He would give up his body to make any play. Once in 2007, I saw him dive head first into the base of an outfield wall to make a catch against the Phillies’ Aaron Rowand….in a Spring Training game in Clearwater. His being unable to stay healthy sped his departure from Cincinnati and probably shortened his career.
“I’m not going to change as far as being less aggressive,” Freel told me about a week before that amazing catch. “Deep down, I know it ain’t going to happen. I’ve already talked to myself plenty of times and tried to go that route [of playing it safe]. When it comes down to crunch time, it doesn’t matter. All of that flies out the window.”
It’s the style of play that was probably why Freel became popular with fans.
Freel suffered a concussion from a particularly nasty collision with teammate Norris Hopper later in 2007. He once estimated he had about nine or 10 concussions over his career.
There were times that Freel was also a little quirky. You could hear a very distinct laugh from around any corner and know it was him. During that 2006 season the day after he made an absolutely spectacular warning track diving catch vs. the Cardinals and Albert Pujols in August — in what might have been the best play of his career — he revealed the play received approval from his imaginary friend “Farney.” And for a time, Farney became rather popular around baseball.
“He’s the little guy in my head who I talk to, and I talk to him,” Freel said on Aug. 9, 2006. “Everyone thinks I talk to myself, so I tell them I’m talking to Farney.”