Former Cincinnati Reds utility man Ryan Freel was found dead in his Jacksonville home on Saturday in what authorities have ruled a suicide. The discovery was made around 4 p.m. local time and first reported by a handful of Florida networks before being confirmed later that evening.
Spending eight seasons in the major leagues, Freel is best known for his time with the Reds during the mid-2000’s. He could do it all, playing all three outfield positions as well as second and third base during his tenure in Cincinnati. An eccentric athlete with flair like no other, he accumulated a lifetime .268 batting average (.272 with Cincinnati) in nearly six hundred games. Freel played all but fifty representing the Queen City, debuting in April 2001 with Toronto and finishing his career with the Orioles, Cubs, and Royals, all in 2009.
And who could forget Farney? Longtime fans may recall the August 2006 dispatch from the Dayton Daily News, in which he revealed a side of him that highlighted his quirky personality. The context was an incredible diving catch to rob Albert Pujols of an extra-base hit, and the quote that comes a few lines into the piece was perhaps destined to be a throwaway line. Mentioned only once, Farney inexplicably took on a life of his own that continues to this day:
“[Farney]‘s a little guy who lives in my head who talks to me and I talk to him,” said Freel, acting as if he finally crashed into too many walls, ran into too many catchers and dived into too many dugouts.
“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 that ball, but that was pretty good if it was.’ Everybody thinks I talk to myself, so I tell ‘em I’m talking to Farney.”
If I had only one word to describe Freel on the field, it would be “scrappy”. A voracious baserunner, he stood among league leaders in stolen bases with 110 stolen bases over three seasons (2004-06), finishing each season in fourth, fifth, and seventh, respectively. His spectacular displays of agility and athleticism marked him as a quick fan favorite across the baseball world, leaving nothing behind in attempts to make an out — perhaps to his own detriment. Injuries cut his career short just as he hit his stride, most notably a major collision with Norris Hopper in 2007 (placing him on the disabled list for five weeks) and a head injury during a pickoff attempt two years later. He acknowledged a history of concussions during his recovery, including “six or seven” that he could confirm but “probably nine or ten” over his career.
When word of his passing reached me late Saturday night, the news hit me harder than such tragedies usually do. This wasn’t my first brush with the overwhelming concept of suicide, much less death, and certainly not my most personal experience. But I still struggle to come to grips with it, asking why his death has taken on so much meaning for me. It wasn’t the weapon of choice, or his methods. In that state of mind, victims would seek out any means to the reckless end. It wasn’t so much the family he left behind — his wife, Christie, and three young daughters — and the possibility that the Christmas season would never be the same. Nor was it the rough-and-tumble, whirlwind career he had, all the past glory he had achieved.
It was the fact that a life with nothing but promise could be cut short in a single, irreversible instant. Ryan Freel was only thirty-six years old when he pulled the trigger that afternoon.
A year after his retirement, he found work in his hometown as a mentor for young children. The group, Big League Development, employed him as manager, according to the Florida Department of State. Freel shared his greatest love, baseball, with the next generation of players. He was named head coach of the St. Joseph Academy baseball team, a private school in nearby Saint Augustine, but resigned a short while later. There’s no way to know whether that decision should have been a trigger, the first cry for help in who knows how many. In light of the somber announcement, it seems that we will never know.
On behalf of Steve Engbloom and the entire staff, Blog Red Machine extends our thoughts and condolences to the Freel family and Reds community. In their remembrance of Freel’s life, the Reds sent three tweets with simple, poignant messages. These pictures speak more than a thousand words: those said and remembered, those he inspired, and those that we will never hear.
May we always remember the dedication and determination of one of Cincinnati’s greatest stewards for years to come.