April 25, 2013
FOLSOM, Calif. — Concussions in football have been well documented.
But what about baseball? Ryan Freel, who spent six of his eight Big League seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, was not the first Major Leaguer to take his own life.
But, the circumstances surrounding the former Tallahassee Junior College standout’s suicide were. Freel, 36, was found in his Jacksonville, Fla. residence on December 22, 2012 after an apparent suicide.
“I don’t know how many times he would talk about sliding into second or third base and blacking out or seeing stars,” stated Freel’s former wife Christie Moore Freel.
“I know a lot of people say they weren’t shocked by it, but I really was. I really thought at some point, the answer to all of this would come along for him. It just never did. I’m very hopeful. We certainly believe there is some sort of connection (to concussions).”
Freel’s step-father Clark Vargas believed Freel sustained at least 10 concussions in baseball and his ex-wife shared the story of a Venezuelan winter league game in which Freel had to be hospitalized for a concussion after running through a fence.
After one of his last concussions in MLB, Freel reported he stayed in bed for five days, was unable to read very much, and driving made him sick and dizzy. The family has donated his brain to the Boston University Center for the study of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathology (CTE).
An undersized player by MLB standards, Freel was a player who played the game with a hell-bent for leather attitude.
He was a super utility player who stole 143 bases, and hit .269 in eight MLB seasons.
“I don’t have the size and the power, but have the heart. Anybody can have that,” he’d tell youngsters who aspired to become MLB players.
Baltimore’s Brian Roberts knew something was wrong after sliding head first into first base against the Red Sox in May 2011. There was no collision with a knee or other body parts of the defensive player covering first. The two-time All-Star got up, and his head began pounding and his vision was blurred.
Roberts looked across the diamond and did not recognize any signs from the third base coach.
“I think that was the scariest part,” Roberts said. “I knew something was wrong.”
He had suffered a concussion from the whiplash effect of the slide. And it was the second in about seven months.
Two days later, he was placed on the disabled list and did not return to the Orioles until June 13, 2012 which was more than year after the injury. He had also concussed himself in September 2010, just five games before the end of the season.
To read more about this in-depth story on concussions, purchase the April 19, 2013 edition. To obtain this issue or start a subscription, click here.