When Ryan Freel started making regular appearances in 2004, it seemed to me that this guy was key to the Reds. It wasn’t just that he could play anywhere, it was also that he brought intensity that inspired action in others. It was obvious to me that finding him playing time was essential to the team’s success. In fact, it was so obvious to me that I couldn’t believe it when they didn’t manage to find him that playing time to start the 2005 season; it was like they’d forgotten everything they’d learned in 2004. I think it’s clear that they’re better off having found that time for him now.
On the field, Freel is spectacular to watch because he lays it all out, puts every ounce of his being into the game, utterly without fear of failure and seemingly without knowledge of how difficult that is for most people to do. Often he is a hero; sometimes he is a goat. But even if he’s thrown out stealing second a half-dozen times tonight, you can bet he’ll still try it again tomorrow if the opportunity presents itself.
People say Freel is great to watch because of the specific things he does: a fantastic defensive play or a daring suicide squeeze. But the real thrill is in watching someone do what you always secretly wanted to do: put yourself on the line, risk it all, dare great things, get knocked down and get back up, and, in the end, see your goals realized.
Off the field, Freel seems like he doesn’t know what to do with his role in the public eye. He gets the rush off actually performing the feats, not the accolades that people heap on him for them later. His reticence in the limelight comes off as shy modesty, which makes him all the more endearing, which prompts even more accolades.
If you derive any of your baseball appreciation from watching athletic men in their prime perform acts of derring do in flattering pants, then you’ll find plenty to appreciate in Freel. He’s got a great evocative mannerism where he tips the dirt out of his belt after diving head-first. Keep an eye out for it after a pick-off attempt at first. He used to have these adorable unruly curls that he has since, sadly, shaven off. I keep hoping that he’ll grow them back, but I’m afraid that he might no longer be able to. Alas.