I have not included stories about any other players, and I do not expect to ever include this section again because I simply lack the material. I know none of the Reds personally, but I’ve come close to meeting Freel twice, and those meetings provide the fodder for this section.
The more recent story occurred at Spring Training when I procured Freel’s autograph on a t-shirt. You can find that story here.
The other story takes place at Applebee’s across the river from the stadium, well before I’d developed the baseball sophistication to do things like buy Freel t-shirts. I, in fact, was still in the throes of a prototypical first-baseball-crush on Sean Casey, and though I knew it was highly unlikely, it was him I was hoping would show up for the 700 WLW show after the game.
Even though it was “only” Freel that showed up, Jon and I enjoyed the program immensely. The radio station had bought Freel one of those great 20-oz Applebee’s beers, which was fine. Looking back on it, though, the second one was probably too much.
At the time, Danny Graves was up to his signature tricks of causing heart attacks en masse before pulling in a dramatic save, and a lot of people, including the hosts of this show, were down on him about it. Graves had gotten a save this way this very night.
I need to break the flow here to set up this scene, because it’s very important that you have a clear visual in your mind. Applebee’s is busy and bustling on a Saturday night, around 11:30. WLW has set up a table in the middle of the room, but only about half of the patrons really seem to be there to see them. Around the perimeter of the restaurant people are eating and drinking and laughing. It is a bustling atmosphere, plenty loud.
OK, so the host of the show, who’s been dogging on Graves for the way he’s been going about getting the saves he’s been getting, brings up the save today and says to Freel, “What do you think? Does Graves really deserve a save for tonight’s performance?”
Freel, ever-enthusiastic, announces, “Oh yeah, man, Graves is legit!” and on “legit” throws both of his arms up into the air like he was leading a cheer. But instead of the rousing chorus of approval he expected, the crowd went totally. utterly. silent. No kidding, people who hadn’t paid attention to a single word of the interview, who hadn’t even realized that a Red was in the room, heard that phrase, stopped chewing, and turned to stare.
And at that exact moment, a cricket chirped.
No, there wasn’t really any cricket. But that would have been perfect. The excrutiating moment felt like it was frozen in time, but in fact the host glossed over it rather nicely and got things moving again in short order. They finished up their interview by midnight because that’s when Applebee’s closes, which was probably good for Freel who seemed to be approaching the “I love you, man” stage after a couple beers.
The next day, Freel started at third base and on the very first play of the game bobbled the ball. The guy sitting in front of us in the stands made some comment about how he had heard that Freel had been out drinking with WLW the night before. And from that point forward, WLW was no longer allowed to provide alcohol to their guests.
In light of the DUI, this story takes on a more sinister, foreshadowing tone, but at the time it was freaking hilarious. In fact, I still laugh painfully and cover my face when I think about that moment of silence. Exquisite-agony-wise, that one is going to be tough to top.
My dad and I met Ryan in St. Louis back in ’04. If you’re not familiar with the team hotel in St. Louis, it’s connected to Union Station, or whatever. It’s a former train station turned mall. Of the several restuarants there, there’s a hooters on the 3rd floor. Guess where we ate. Guess where the Reds ate. So we sit down at the bar and it turns out the guy to the left of us is Ryan Freel. I, being 15 at the time, am out getting autographs. My dad stays and talks with Freel, who on the way down to St. Louis, we had listened to the game where he had 5 hits against Cleveland. And ever since then, we’ve been good friends with him. He’s the nicest guy you’ll ever meet (if you haven’t met Sean Casey). My dad takes pictures at games with his Nikon D70. He gives the players copies of his pictures. They’re pretty awesome pictures. I know Freel has a bunch on the wall at his home.
I’ve been to that hotel; we stayed there when we met up with Bellyscratcher to talk smack in person. Nice place, but I never made it up to the Hooters. I’ll have to check that out next time.
Speaking of, how was a 15-year old sitting at the bar?
You sound like a well-connected fella. Glad to have you here. 😀