Hope is a beautiful thing. We all have it at one point or another. It’s what keeps us going a lot of times. Spring Training is all about hope. At the Red Sox camp alone, there are hundreds of young men, dressed either in uniforms, or blue shorts, red t-shirts and red baseball socks, all hoping to one day reach the Major Leagues. They literally come from everywhere. All corners of the United States, Cuba, Japan, the Dominican, Australia. Every single one has a dream as they fight through fatigue, injury or even self-doubt.
Ryan Westmoreland continues his battle back and continues to hope that the carrot at the end of the stick, that only a little more than a year ago was his for the taking, is still somewhere within his grasp. The Portsmouth, R.I. native continues his rehab after brain surgery in March of 2010. It was on March 15th, to be precise. The large tattoo on his arm has the date March 16, 2010. That date is the day he feels he was reborn, in a sense. The day his second chance began. Not only to play baseball, but to live the normal life of a 19 or 20 year old. Normal for us isn’t the same as normal for Ryan. None of us has ever been rated the number one prospect in the Sox organization. Very few of us are so coveted that we receive a couple of million dollars just to sign a contract to play baseball. And again, the majority of us will hopefully, never have to undergo brain surgery. After all the ups and downs, “Westy”, as his teammates call him, has an incredible attitude. “I feel great. I’m out here in the beautiful weather, doing pretty much everything everyone else is doing. It’s good for me to be back in that mode again, to feel like a player again.”
One of the things that can’t be ignored, is the incredible progress he has made since the surgery. I last sat down with Ryan in July, and he looks so much better and stronger than last summer. It’s taken a lot of hard work. “I set a lot of high standards for myself and my progress. Looking back on the last year and the things that I am doing, is special to me. Every player around me, that knows what I’ve gone through, is inspired.”
The skills that once came so easily to Westmoreland are slowly returning. He takes batting practice and does all the other things that aspiring Major Leaguers do in Fort Myers. “I’m still working on everything. Every aspect of the game. I’d say my hitting has come along the fastest. It’s a lot of instinct. In the beginning it was really tough, but I kind of let my instincts take over. My throwing has come a long way and so has my running. It’s a matter of sorting everything out and getting into a game atmosphere.” Ryan has good days and those that are a little tougher. “It’s taken me a while to accept the fact that baseball is not the easiest thing for me anymore. I keep looking back and keep making progress at every aspect of the rehab. It’s disappointing to know that I used to be able to do these things so easily in the past, but at the same time, realizing how much harder it was just a month ago, and that I’m getting better.”
Ryan knows that he hasn’t been able to do this alone. The support he has gotten, at times has been overwhelming. “My parents have been there for me throughout the whole thing. Charlene (his girlfriend) has been there through this whole thing. It’s amazing. Back out here and getting the support from my teammates. This doesn’t happen to a whole lot of people. The support from the guys has been incredible. They continue to push me, and I feel like I’m pushing them.”
Ryan told me that he’ll soon be heading to Boston for yet another surgery. As I understand it, he will have a nerve removed from his tongue and put into his eyelid to help its’ movement improve. He says recovery is just a day or two and he’ll be back in Fort Myers, sweating it out with the other players at extended Spring Training. Through everything, Ryan tells me that the Red Sox have never wavered in their support. “They’ve been there for me, through thick and thin and I can’t thank them enough.”
As the PawSox radio announcer, this offseason, the question I’ve been most frequently asked is “Do you think Ryan Westmoreland will be back playing this season?” My answer- “I hope so.”