Blog Archives

May 30, 2005

My Impressions

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.

May 30, 2005

My Stories

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.

May 30, 2005

Non-Baseball Stuff

Ryan Paul Freel was born March 8, 1976 in Jacksonville, Florida. He attended Englewood High School in Jacksonville and Tallahassee Community College. He lives in Jacksonville. He is married to Christie and on January 1, 2004 the couple had their first child, a girl named Ava.

Freel has always been a daredevil and is well-known for the time he jumped off a third-story motel balcony into a swimming pool.

Freel was involved in a minor stir at the end of the 2004 season when he and D’Angelo Jimenez came to blows at a team gathering.

Freel created much more of a buzz on the evening of the 2005 opening day when he was arrested for DUI and other related charges. Freel originally plead not guilty to the charges but later changed his plea to guilty, probably as part of a plea agreement. When it was all said and done, all of the charges were dropped except for the DUI and Freel was required to pay a $200 fine and participate in the Reds’ Employee Assistance Program.

In January 2006, he was arrested again, this time in Tampa for Disorderly Intoxicaton. The charges were eventually dropped, and the Cincinnati fanbase continues to be supportive and forgiving.

May 30, 2005

Baseball Stuff

Ryan Freel is the Reds’ hyperkinetic utility man, playing anywhere and everywhere and routinely changing positions during the course of a single game. Freel became a staple for the injury-ridden Reds in 2004 by bouncing among second base, shortstop, third base, and the outfield. Freel is the emergency backup catcher and would certainly take the mound if the need presented itself.

Wherever he’s playing, Freel has a reckless disregard for his own safely and will fling himself into walls, stands, the ground, other players, or anything else that stands between him and the ball. He has broken the arm of one fan and the nose of another, and a near-collision with Barry Larkin resulted in aggravation of an existing injury for the veteran shortstop.

But mostly if anyone gets hurt, it’s going to be Freel. He’s had bruises, fractures, strains, tears, you-name-it, but he always seems to bounce back quickly. Freel is a frequent Web Gem Nominee because his defensive plays often appear to be, if not impossible, at least highly improbable.

Though you never know where you might see him defending, you can count on seeing Freel batting first in the line-up because he gets on base. Once he’s there, Freel is a base-stealing threat. With all the Cincinnati heavy hitters, it would be easy to get accustomed to watching the guys jog instead of run and forget to pay attention to the baserunners. If this describes you, you’ll find that watching Freel will expand your skills as a spectator.

Freel tends to be very streaky at the plate, especially when he doesn’t have frequent days off. He’s a hard man to take out of the line-up, though, because the team definitely misses his contribution when he’s not there.

Freel signed a two-year contract in December 2005 for $3 million plus incentives.