With news breaking tonight that Ryan Freel, the scrappy, hustling former utility player that was a fan favorite during his Reds tenure, was found dead, the victim of an apparent suicide, it is easy to wonder if the Reds community missed the signs. Ryan played before players like Joey Votto, who honorably took some time off to tackle anxiety issues, made psychological problems an acceptable locker topic, but an honest assessment of the situation would probably conclude that Freel would have passed current tests anyway.
You see, Freel was outside suspicion. He was a particularly interesting individual but that was all. Everybody has a friend like Ryan Freel in their group, and if you say you don’t that’s because it’s you. Maybe your Ryan Freel doesn’t have an imaginary friend named Farney, as Freel professed to having. Honestly, who can forget the diving catches that Freel, towards the end of his time in Cincinnati, admitted were ‘completely Farney’. But that was just Ryan Freel. Boston had Manny being Manny but Cincinnati had Freel being Freel.
The downside for Freel was alcohol, something every Reds fan knew about. Freel was arrested multiple times for drunken driving during his tenure, an act usually reserved for Bengals players at that time. With so many Bengals in the news, Freel was easier to overlook. And he played so hard.
My favorite Freel being Freel moment came at a game I was fortunate enough to attend. Sitting with my brother behind third base, where Freel was playing that day, we laughed with everyone else as Freel tried to call off Adam Dunn on a ball to left. Yes, you read that correctly, Freel actually tried to call off Adam Dunn on a ball to the outfield. And it wasn’t a bloop that landed in no man’s land. Dunn didn’t have to move more than two feet to make the catch. The play ended with a laughing Adam Dunn putting his arm around the diminutive Freel and shaking him. That was just Ryan Freel.
The news tonight is heartbreaking for any Reds fan, and looking back it is easy to see the warning signs. Ryan Freel was one of us. His mistakes were meant to be played out behind closed doors, not in front of legions of fans. Maybe next time, when a Reds player begins acting strangely, and I mean Farney strangely, somebody will speak up. Dusty, I’d say that one’s on you.
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