Ryan Westmoreland‘s passion, perseverance and pride have captivated an entire organization. Despite the 22-year-old never making it to the big league level, Red Sox players, coaches and fans have all witnessed an epic fight that will only end with Westmoreland succeeding in whatever it is he tackles next.
Westmoreland, who was once considered one of the top prospects in the Red Sox organization, has undergone two brain surgeries since March 2010. He tried with great persistence to return to the game he loves, but the young outfielder’s comeback bid came up short, as Westmoreland announced on Wednesday that he’s stepping away from the game of baseball.
“With a clear mind and heart, as well as the unwavering support and friendship of my family, friends, agent(s), doctors, therapists, and the Boston Red Sox, I have decided to voluntarily retire as a professional baseball player,” Westmoreland wrote in an email to some media outlets.
The retirement is a very unfortunate bit of news, albeit an unsurprising one. The fact that Westmoreland was even attempting a comeback was enough to tip your cap. And while it seemed unlikely all along that he’d ever be able to carve out a successful big league career in the wake of the procedures he underwent, Westmoreland represented all that is right in a young man and all that is terribly unfair in life.
Westmoreland opted to sign with the Red Sox after being selected in the fifth round in 2008, passing up an opportunity to attend Vanderbilt on a scholarship in the process. The decision looked to be a fruitful one, as Westmoreland impressed scouts during his lone professional season in 2009, and was rated the league’s No. 21 prospect by Baseball America before the 2010 season. Unfortunately, he would never play another game after earning that ranking.
But as Westmoreland turns the page on baseball (as least as far as playing the sport is concerned), we should focus as much on the youngster’s future as we do on his unfortunate past. The brain surgeries he underwent clearly derailed what could have been an impressive big league career, but his health battles have hardly dampened his enthusiasm for life. In many ways, Westmoreland is walking away from his playing days a much more focused, humble and grateful person, despite having to endure a three-year span that seems unimaginable to most.
“In my heart, I know that I have worked as hard as one possibly could to overcome the obstacles presented by this unfortunate series of events,” Westmoreland wrote in his retirement e-mail. “It is with that confidence that I am comfortable turning the page, and searching for ‘the reason’ that this has happened. I believe that there is a plan for me that will utilize my experiences, however painful some may have been, to do something special in my life. It is time for me to find that path, and to pursue it with the same focus and effort that I pursued the dream of playing professional baseball.”
Westmoreland plans to attend college in order to earn the degree he once put on the back burner while pursuing a baseball career, and as ESPN.com points out, the Red Sox have already committed to paying his tuition per the two parties’ original deal. It’s undoubtedly just the first step for Westmoreland, though, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising to someday see “Westy” back around the diamond in some capacity.
For now, it’s important for Westmoreland to take a step back and understand that his decision to retire, while bold, is probably the best move for him. He worked tirelessly toward a goal that so often seemed unattainable, and while the effort personified the hard-working individual that Westmoreland is, the decision to stop the comeback bid will allow him to focus on thriving within another profession.
Many times, athletes find themselves hanging onto a sport not only because they love it, but also because they’re unsure of what step to take next. Westmoreland’s step is different in that he was “dealt a bad hand” — as Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington put it — but at such a young age, Westmoreland has so many opportunities ahead of him.
With that in mind, Westmoreland’s retirement isn’t a matter of him stepping away from baseball. It’s really an instance of the charismatic ballplayer stepping toward something else. And given what we’ve seen over the past three years, it’d be foolish to think he’ll do anything but succeed going forward.