Here is part one of my conversation with Ryan Westmoreland. The audio is available on pawsox.com. On the homepage click multimedia. Then click video highlights. It is an audio interview only. It is about half way down the page. I hope it inspires you
Everyone knows you as the top prospect in the Red Sox organization. They also know what you have had to endure over the last few months. Let’s talk about how you are feeling both physically and emotionally.
Physically, I definitely feel great. It’s been a little over three months since the surgery. Knowing that it’s only been three months since a pretty serious operation, from where I was to where I am now, I feel great. Emotionally, it’s been a roller coaster for me and my family, especially the time leading up to the surgery and the time immediately after. We’ve gotten over it, everything’s positive and we have a good attitude about it.
Let’s go back even before you knew there was anything wrong. What’s it like to be a local kid and the top prospect in the Sox system?
It’s an honor. Playing with some of those guys, hanging out with those guys. Players like Lars Anderson and Ryan Kalish, who are always at the top of that board. To be honored in the top 5, never mind the top 1 is amazing. I try to not let affect me at all. Just go out and play. Let the people off the field do all the talking. I tried to control what could. How I played. I was really excited going into the season. It’s too bad.
Is there added pressure, being the #1 guy?
I can’t lie. I’d say there definitely is. Everybody knows it. The guys mess around with you. You’re not going to be able to block it all out, but you do the best you can.
Let’s go back to Spring Training in Fort Myers when you started to see your symptoms manifest. Hitting instructor Victor Rodriguez said you were crushing the ball at batting practice early in the day.
I felt beyond great. I was hitting the ball great. The coaches were all happy. All of a sudden I felt a numbness and tingling in my fingers. I didn’t know what it was. I played through it for about a week. the trainers were keeping an eye on me. It didn’t go away. We still didn’t think it was anything serious. One day the ball felt really heavy in my hand and I had to use a lighter bat. I was still hitting and throwing the ball well. Something still wasn’t right, although I wasn’t experiencing any pain. I knew something was wrong. A day or so later, I felt very weak on my right side. That sent up the red flags. I went for an MRI and that’s how it all started.
You were diagnosed with a “Cavernous Malformation.” As best as you can, explain it to me.
Honestly, I’ve heard from multiple doctors. You could call it a stroke or any number of things. Whatever it was, it bled out and when it bled, that would trigger the symptoms. I had the first bleed and the first numbness. The second bleed triggered more symptoms and that’s when we knew we were in for surgery…They all said “you’ve had this since birth”, it was just unlucky this happened now.
The words “brain surgery” are two of the most frightening words you could encounter. What goes through your mind as you process that?
We knew that it was a sensitive and serious matter, going through the surgery rather than sitting around and waiting. It was frightening. In Arizona, a couple of days before surgery, Dr. (Robert) Spetzler laid it all out. The risks of the surgery included death, coma and paralysis. He just laid it right out and that’s when it all set in. It was a pretty emotional time.
You go through the surgery. I imagine just waking up was an incredible relief.
That was the number one goal. Just wake up. For me, it seemed like ten seconds, for my parents, it was the longest eight hours of their life. We were in the Intensive Care Unit and I’m thinking “Thank God I’m alive”. It was amazing waking up and having my family and my girlfriend Charlene there for me. We saw progress within the first few days. The goals became bigger. I wanted to get up and walk. I wanted to be able to eat. Some of the goals, I’ve reached. Some of the goals are more long term.
I read a great story about how you met Charlene, It took swagger to do what you did. Still have that swagger?
In my first season, I was playing in Lowell and I heard some girls shouting to me “#25, #25”. I didn’t know what to do. I was a young guy on the team. Kason Gabbard told me to put my name and number on a ball and get it to her. I figured “why not?” I had nothing to lose. Later in the game she got onto the field to do the “chicken dance” and I thought “Oh Geez, she’s nuts!” It has worked out great. She has been there the whole way. I don’t really have that type of swagger anymore. At least right now, I don’t. When I get back out on the field, I’ll be confident. Never cocky, but confident. I try to never show weakness to an opponent, always stay confident.
Mike Lunnie, the Athletic Director at Portsmouth High School told me that as soon as you got your first check from Boston, you made a donation to your alma mater. What did you do?
I was thinking about giving something back to the high school in the baseball area, but I played soccer and basketball too. I wanted to do something for the entire school and the athletic program so we went out and bought a 60 inch flat screen TV for the new weight room that was just put in. I felt it would suit all the sporting programs at the school and not just one thing. I wanted it to benefit the whole school.
To Be Continued.