Westmoreland's No. 25 retired by Spinners
Former Red Sox prospect forced to retire in 2012 because of brain condition
LOWELL, Mass. -- The last time Ryan Westmoreland played at LeLacheur Park for the Lowell Spinners, he ranged back for a hard-hit ball to left field and went through the wall while making the catch. A piece of him will always be in that wall.
He never played there again, which is typical for an advanced prospect with Major League aspirations. But Westmoreland never really played anywhere after that. A brain condition derailed and then ended his promising career.
On Wednesday, the Spinners made a dedication to Westmoreland to make sure his legacy stays on the wall at LeLacheur Park forever --- the club retired Westmoreland's No. 25 jersey in the second inning of a game against the Tri-City ValleyCats.
It's the first number the team has ever retired, and it now sits on the wall just inside the right-field foul pole. To its left are all the numbers the Red Sox have retired.
"To be able to have an organization have my back when I was playing, and now even when I'm not, it's special to me and my family and everyone that supported me," Westmoreland said. "I feel like the Lowell Spinners have had my back non-stop, and I'll be forever grateful for that."
Westmoreland is mentally sharp and physically in great shape, working out daily. But neurologically, the battle continues. He suffers from double vision, partial facial paralysis and numbness in the entire right side of his body.
The 24-year-old is in good spirits in his post-baseball life. He's enrolled in online courses at Northeastern University, thanks to scholarship money negotiated into his first contract with the Red Sox. He passed over Vanderbilt to sign that deal.
"I'm getting the ball rolling," said Westmoreland, who is considering majoring in business, although added he'd ideally like to work in baseball in some capacity. "We'll see what the future holds, but I'm optimistic."
Westmoreland's story has been told before, but it's one that bears repeating. Because of the courage he showed through it all, the Spinners wanted make sure it was never forgotten.
The Red Sox selected the Portsmouth, R.I., native in the fifth round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. He had been Rhode Island's Gatorade Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons.
Westmoreland then excelled in his first year at the professional level, batting .296/.401/.484 with seven home runs, 35 RBIs and 19 stolen bases without being caught in 60 games for the short season Single-A Spinners in 2009.
Scouts expected Westmoreland to join Red Sox by 2012 or '13.
A "true five-tool player," Spinners general manager Tim Bawmann said, Westmoreland was Baseball America's No. 21 prospect heading into 2010. Early that year, though, he began to experience numbness in his body. Upon examination, doctors determined he needed a cavernous malformation removed from his brain stem. The surgery, although life-threatening, was a success.
But it greatly limited Westmoreland's movement and he missed the entire 2010 season. After essentially reteaching himself to play baseball, he tried to make a comeback for the 2012 campaign. He played in the Dominican Winter League and appeared to be baseball ready again.
"The doctors were amazed at the progress he had made," said his father, Ron. "The hours he had to put into physical training and relearning how to hit, and the progress he made at the rate he made it to get to that point was incredible. We were so proud."
But it wasn't to be. Westmoreland suffered a setback during Spring Training in 2012. That same brain condition effectively ended his career, and he made his retirement official in March 2013.
"It felt like it was a direct, immediate hit to a member of our immediate family," Bawmann said. "It's still sad to see him today, because I have so many good memories of him when he played on this field. It's still sad to think what it could have been for him professionally. But it's also so neat to see what a great person he's turned into."
Through it all though, the Red Sox and Spinners have been there for Westmoreland. Boston's front office personnel, including former general manager Theo Epstein and current GM Ben Cherington, would check in on Westmoreland almost daily and still do currently, even if he's no longer in the organization. The club also helped pay for some travel expenses when he needed to see specialists around the country.
Ron Westmoreland described his family as "the biggest Red Sox fans in the world." It goes way beyond watching the team on the field now, he said.
"We always look at the business side of baseball, but no one gets to see that side of it," Ron Westmoreland said. "Any chance I can get to thank the Red Sox organization and those people for how they treated us and my family, I will. We're the biggest Red Sox fans in the world, not just because we're Red Sox fans, but because of the people. They're real, real good, tremendous people."
The Spinners will always be family to Westmoreland, as well. He said in the summer of 2009, an immature kid arrived in Lowell, not completely ready for the rigors of professional baseball.
But Bawmann and assistant general manager Jon Boswell said Westmoreland doesn't give himself enough credit. Bawmann said Westmoreland was the first player to volunteer for an event in the community, and if the team was slumping, he'd be the first to say "Get on my back. I'm carrying us."
The Westmoreland's still watch the Red Sox and Ryan still loves the game. He always will, he said. But it can be difficult at times to think about what could have been.
"You go to a Red Sox game and look in center field and say, 'What if'?" Westmoreland said. "But I've kind of gotten over that."
Most importantly, Westmoreland said, he's batting 2-for-2 in life after surviving a pair of surgeries and got to enjoy Wednesday's ceremony. A piece of him will always be in Lowell now.
"He's alive today. He's here with us. We almost lost him twice," Ron Westmoreland said. "That's really all that matters. I'm just glad he's here today and he's getting a chance to experience this."
Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.