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Ex-MLB player Ryan Freel found dead in Fla. home

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Ex-MLB player Ryan Freel found dead in Fla. home

MIAMI (AP) Ryan Freel, a former Major League Baseball player known for his fearless play but whose career was cut short after eight seasons by a series of head and other injuries, was found dead Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla., according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

Freel, who was 36, died of what appeared to be a self-inflicted shotgun wound, sheriff's office spokesman Shannon Hartley wrote in an email Sunday. The medical examiner will make the final determination of the cause of death.

``RIP Ryan Freel!! Great teammate, great guy,n loved his family!'' former Cincinnati Reds teammate Sean Casey tweeted. ``Such a sad day today with his passing!Awful news!Prayers are with his family!''

The speedy Freel spent six of his eight big league seasons with the Reds and finished his career in 2009 with a .268 average and 143 steals.

``Really hurt by his passing!'' Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips said on Twitter. ``You'll never will be forgotten.''

Freel drew attention in 2006 when he was quoted by the Dayton Daily News as saying he had an imaginary friend, Farney. ``He's a little guy who lives in my head who talks to me and I talk to him,'' Freel was quoted as saying. ``Everybody thinks I talk to myself, so I tell `em I'm talking to Farney.''

The Jacksonville native thrilled fans with his all-out style, yet it took a toll on his career. During his playing days, he once estimated he had sustained up to 10 concussions. Freel missed 30 games in 2007 after a collision with a teammate caused a concussion.

Freel showed no fear as he ran into walls, hurtled into the seats and crashed into other players trying to make catches. His jarring, diving grabs often made the highlight reels, and he was praised by those he played with and against for always having a dirt-stained uniform.

Selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 10th round of the 1995 amateur draft out of Tallahassee Community College, Freel made his big league debut in April 2001 with the Blue Jays after second baseman Homer Bush injured a thumb.

Freel appeared in just nine major league games that season, became a free agent and spent all of 2002 at Tampa Bay's Triple-A farm team. He signed a minor league deal with the Reds that November and made it back to the majors the following April.

He stayed with the Reds through 2008, when a torn tendon in his right hamstring caused him to miss the final 103 games of the season. He was traded to Baltimore at that December's winter meetings and split the 2009 season among the Orioles, Chicago Cubs and Kansas City Royals.

``The Reds family is deeply saddened to hear of the death of Ryan Freel,'' the Cincinnati Reds said in a statement. ``His teammates and our fans loved him for how hard he played the game, and he loved giving back to the community. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.''

Freel had consecutive seasons of 37, 36 and 37 steals from 2004-06 but started to slow the following year. After hitting .271 with eight homers and 27 RBIs in 2006, he gained a $2,325,000 salary for the following year and then in April 2007 signed a $7 million, two-year deal covering 2008 and `09.

He was in center field when he collided with right fielder Norris Hopper's elbow on May 28, 2007, an injury that caused Freel to be taken off the field in an ambulance. Freel sustained a concussion that caused headaches and an impaired memory, and he didn't return until early July. He then suffered a season-ending knee surgery in August.

``I think what happened last year has taken a toll on this year,'' he said at spring training the following year. ``Obviously there's question marks. Obviously there's people questioning or doubting or whatever it may be.''

He sustained another head injury that put him back on the DL when he was hit by a pickoff throw to second base from Boston pitcher Justin Masterson during the Patriots Day game at Fenway Park on April 20, 2009. Freel appeared dazed as he walked off, both arms extended over the shoulders of Baltimore's trainers.

Disappointed about conditions surrounding a stress test he was forced to take before beginning a minor league rehabilitation assignment - he insisted he felt fine - Freel was traded to the Cubs on May 8 only to be dealt to Kansas City on July 6. The Royals cut him a month later, and he signed a minor league deal with Texas. The following year, he played in nine games for the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League.

Jacksonville.com reported he was hired as baseball coach at the St. Joseph Academy on June 28 this year and then ``backed away'' from that position.

Freel also had trouble related to alcohol. He was arrested in northern Kentucky, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, in April 2005 and was charged with drunken driving, careless driving and driving with an open container in a motor vehicle. A month later, he pleaded guilty.

The following January, he was arrested at a pool hall in Tampa, Fla., and charged with disorderly intoxication, a misdemeanor. Prosecutors settled the case by having Freel do community service.

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Associated Press writers Ronald Blum and Ben Walker contributed to this report.

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Nationals add lefty pitcher Ben Braymer to 40-man, protect him from Rule 5 Draft

Nationals add lefty pitcher Ben Braymer to 40-man, protect him from Rule 5 Draft

The Nationals had until 8 p.m. Wednesday to decide whether or not they were going to protect any of their eligible prospects from the Rule 5 Draft, but they made the call seven hours early to add left-handed pitcher Ben Braymer to their 40-man roster and thus ensure he’s on the team for 2020.

Braymer, 25, was named the Nationals’ co-Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2018 before posting a 2.51 ERA in 13 starts with AA-Harrisburg this year and earning a midseason promotion to AAA-Fresno. He struggled in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League but evidently impressed the Nationals’ front office enough to earn a roster spot ahead of next season.

The Nationals drafted Braymer in the 18th round out of Auburn when he was 22 years old, making him eligible for the 2019 Rule 5 Draft. Players who sign at 18 must be added to their respective team’s 40-man roster within five seasons while those signed at 19 or older must be added within four or else they’re subjected to being taken by another club in the Rule 5 Draft.

Braymer was one of seven players among the Nationals’ top 30 prospects (via MLB Pipeline) to be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. The only eligible player ranked above him left unprotected is right-hander Sterling Sharp, who made his way up to AA-Harrisburg this season and represented the team in the Arizona Fall League.

Washington now has 31 players on its 40-man roster, leaving plenty of room for the team to make offseason moves without having to cut anyone. The Rule 5 Draft is scheduled for Dec. 12, the final day of the Winter Meetings.

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Gerardo Parra is gone, but will never be forgotten

Gerardo Parra is gone, but will never be forgotten

There was a down time for Gerardo Parra. His non-stop bubbliness lost some perk once he entered a month-long slump. Parra did not ride his scooter into the clubhouse with the same joy. His work in the dugout during games dialed back to enthusiastic, living below his usual level of a rocket being launched into a volcano. He wasn't himself. So, Davey Martinez called him into the manager’s office.

“I sat with him. I said, what's going on?’” Martinez said during the postseason. “He said, ‘I don't know, I'm not doing good.’ And I go, ‘And?’ And he looked at me and said, 'What do you mean?' I said, 'Your job is to bring the energy every day. I don't care if you're 2 for 100. Bring the energy. Play that music, get loud, and have fun. Have fun.'

“He said, you're right, and he went back and started playing music, having fun. Lo and behold, he went on a tear again, and he comes back in my office, and he said, you know, I kind of forgot what it was like to just be myself. And I said, exactly. So I don't ever want to see you do that again, you know? You're another heartbeat of this team. It's not just about you, it's about everybody else. Like I said, 2 for 100, you've got to be yourself.”

Parra being himself turned into one of the grand storylines of the Nationals’ 2019 World Series season. His daily arrival was stirring, like someone tossed a bag of sunshine into the clubhouse. His scooter-propelled entrances included horn-blowing and extra laps and what-the-hell-is-this-guy-doing smiles. Often, he wore blacked-out sunglasses when circling the clubhouse, darting right back to the training area, then pulling a u-turn to zip through the other side of the clubhouse and past the dining room before an abrupt halt at his locker.

Parra’s next stop -- scooter inclusion to be determined -- is Japan. He signed a one-year contract with the Yomiuri Giants late Tuesday, the team announced. His departure ends arguably the most memorable, non-quantifiable, pervasive bit player show in organization history. It’s 2020 on-field impact is nil.

“When Gerardo Parra joined the team, something happened,” managing principal owner Mark Lerner said during the postseason. “Whatever it was, it was magic.”

Parra caused Freddie Freeman’s bewilderment. His presence led to a stadium-full of adults -- by age -- clapping along to a child’s song which included lyrics and a beat never to be extracted from one’s skull once heard. His father sat at Parra’s locker on the red cushion of a folding chair in his “Papa Shark” T-shirt. Even founding principal owner Ted Lerner, a 94-year-old man of business and sternness, paused to mention the “Baby Shark” situation at the team’s parade. 

“I want to say a special word to the veterans on this team: from now on, you can call me, ‘Grandpa Shark.’”

Max Scherzer cackled.

Parra’s May 11 grand slam in Los Angeles was one of the few palatable points in the month and indicative of his ability in big spots. He finished the season with a 1.117 OPS with runners in scoring position. 

Late in the year, Scherzer said the team had an “it factor.” Asked how he knew, he couldn’t explain. “You just know it when you see it.” This stance applied to Parra because moments became his.

The pop culture surge of his song choice -- a result of his daughter’s relentless listening and an attempt at slump-breaking -- put Parra in front of cameras all season. A television hit on MLB Network’s “Intentional Talk” was part of his media rounds. Afterward, he beamed. 

Parra, born in Venezuela, went back to the clubhouse to describe his success. “I nailed it,” he said. He went on to tout the quality of his English during the segment. It was so good, he thought a name change was necessary.

“My name is no more Gerardo, it's Gerard,” Parra told Martinez.

Martinez’s reaction?

“You can't be serious. You've got to laugh at him, but he was dead serious. And he started going around the clubhouse saying, ‘You call me Gerard from now on.’ Whatever.”

Gerardo, Gerard, the song, the scooter, the smiles and rose-colored glasses are off to Japan. Staying is a legacy of fun, which won't go away.

 

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