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Brain surgery survivor Ryan Westmoreland retires at age 22

Mar 6, 2013, 2:20 PM EDT

ryan westmoreland

Ryan Westmoreland, a former top prospect of the Red Sox who first underwent brain surgery three years ago, announced his retirement Wednesday in an email to the Boston media:

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. Although it is a very difficult decision for me, it has become clear that the neurological damage caused by the most recent cavernous malformation and surgery leaves me with physical challenges that make it impossible to play the game at such a high level.

The Red Sox drafted Westmoreland, a Rhode Island native and lifelong Boston fan, in the fifth round out in 2008 and then gave him a $2 million bonus to keep him away from Vanderbilt. In his lone minor league season, the outfielder hit .296/.401/.484 with seven homers in 223 at-bats for short-season Single-A Lowell in 2009. The performance was so impressive that Baseball America rated him the game’s No. 21 prospect in 2010.

Catastrophe struck Westmoreland the following spring, as he was diagnosed with a cavernous malformation at his brainstem. After surgery, he resumed working out on the field and taking batting practice eight months later in Nov. 2010. He hoped to play in the minors in 2011, and while that didn’t happen, he did appear in a couple of games as a DH in the Dominican Winter League that December. However, he suffered a major setback in July 2012, when he required another brain surgery.

Westmoreland tweeted last month that his latest MRI came back “all good” and that he was off to work out with the Red Sox in February. However, it seems he’s since determined that a career in baseball was never going to materialize. As unfortunate as that is, he’s still a 22-year-old with a bright future ahead of him:

Regardless of this result, I have been very fortunate throughout my professional career and the last three years of recovery and rehabilitation. I have met sincere, caring people that have believed in me and have helped me to stay focused on the task at hand. I will never be able to adequately thank the wonderful people in the Boston Red Sox organization, that continued to support me and my family throughout all of this. From the time of the initial diagnosis, it was never about the baseball. They cared for me as a person… a member of their family, and their focus was entirely on my physical and emotional well being. I have met so many players that have been there for me, that I know will continue to be my friends long past this. I have had access to the best hospitals, doctors, surgeons, therapists and others that without their professional advice and treatment would never be where I am today. Octagon has always been more than a sports agent to me, they are friends that were there in every hospital or whenever I needed them for support and advice. The media has been fair and sensitive to me throughout this, and I am grateful for that. Through that media, I have been blessed to receive support and encouragement from so many people from all over, that although I don’t know them have been instrumental in driving me to accomplish all that is possible. And finally, my family and friends have been by my side and have supported whatever it is that I wanted to pursue. It has been a difficult road for all of them, yet they have managed to stay strong and keep me focused on the next goal. I have no doubt their support will continue to drive me towards the next.

  1. uyf1950 - Mar 6, 2013 at 2:22 PM

    What can anyone say, other then to wish him the very best.

  2. jarathen - Mar 6, 2013 at 2:22 PM

    Glad he has his health and a positive outlook. Must be a very difficult thing to go through.

    • polonelmeagrejr - Mar 7, 2013 at 6:26 AM

      You can’t imagine how challenging it is to have something like that atttack your brain. Even after a year of successful recovery there is stilll a lurking issue with integrating your “new”self with the “old” one. THe good news seems to be that he doesn’t have cancer. Good luck, fella.

  3. 13arod - Mar 6, 2013 at 2:40 PM

    Glad he is healthy but sadly he had to retire

  4. zachcomtois - Mar 6, 2013 at 2:41 PM

    Such a sad story. I hope that he can move forward and live a normal life, and I hope that this isn’t an issue for him ever again.

    • 2077james - Mar 6, 2013 at 3:57 PM

      Who are the dickheads that are thumbing these comments down?

      • atlrod - Mar 6, 2013 at 8:22 PM

        I think your question has applied the appropriate title for them. I don’t know that I need any information beyond that.

      • badintent - Mar 7, 2013 at 1:13 AM

        They’re usually idiots that have had former sandbox fights on HBTwith same said bloggettes and think that by posting thumbs down they can score points. The usual suspects, Unibombers types, cops that eat women,Arodless, North Korean politicians, etc……….

  5. blues1988 - Mar 6, 2013 at 2:47 PM

    i always wonder what people like this do. he skipped college to play baseball, so i guess his only option is to take that 2 mil and put it towards college? i assume he got to keep that money or am i wrong? glad he’s healthy and got such a good outlook on it, good luck to him!

    • agelardi - Mar 6, 2013 at 3:03 PM

      Or use it to open up a baseball school/camp. Don’t need college to have a happy life.

    • Kevin S. - Mar 6, 2013 at 3:55 PM

      Most kids that sign out of high school have language in their contracts that has the team pay for them to return to school if they wash out of baseball.

    • gmfw7 - Mar 6, 2013 at 5:08 PM

      jeff randazzo, a philly kid, was drafted by the twins in the late 90′s or 2000. in ’02 he and a teammate were driving to florida for spring training and got into a serious car accident. randazzo fractured his sternum, had a collapsed lung, and had other injuries. he never rebounded and was out of baseball soon after. he took his money and opened a sports training facility in delaware county, pa called Maple Zone, which is one of the nicest and most popular place to train in the area. Just thought i’d share a good story about an athlete who faced a catastrophic injury and was able to be successful in another area of life. best wishes to ryan in the future.

  6. justthepeanutgallery - Mar 6, 2013 at 2:48 PM

    I rooted for this young man like I rooted for my own children. Good luck in all that you do Ryan

  7. tfbuckfutter - Mar 6, 2013 at 2:59 PM

    $2,000,000 isn’t a bad nest egg for a 22 year old to start a life.

    Unless of course he didn’t have health insurance in which case a hospital somewhere has the vast majority of that signing bonus.

    Hopefully he will find more longevity in his next career.

    • agelardi - Mar 6, 2013 at 3:05 PM

      Is it wrong to assume that pro players get insurance through their teams, just like us regular joe employees?

      • tfbuckfutter - Mar 6, 2013 at 3:09 PM

        I don’t know.

        They aren’t in the union I don’t think.

    • senioreditor2 - Mar 6, 2013 at 4:08 PM

      Q: Do players get health insurance?
      A: Minor league players are fully enrolled, at no cost to themselves unless they have dependents, in the minor league insurance program from the time they report after signing. Players are also covered under the laws of the Worker’s Compensation Act for injuries while playing.

      • tfbuckfutter - Mar 6, 2013 at 5:47 PM

        Thanks.

  8. drewzducks - Mar 6, 2013 at 3:06 PM

    Was fortunate to see him play in Lowell that summer and there was a definite buzz around him. Just happy to hear that he’s doing well and wish him nothing but the best.

  9. jwbiii - Mar 6, 2013 at 3:24 PM

    Not such good news here, I’m afraid

    “When patients present with recurrent hemorrhage, progressive neurologic deterioration, or intractable epilepsy, then treatment in the form of surgery should be considered.”

    http://neurosurgery.mgh.harvard.edu/neurovascular/v-w-94-2.htm

    • sneschalmers - Mar 6, 2013 at 3:50 PM

      Well, he already had 2 surgeries to address the issue, so I’m not sure what you’re trying to get at. It’s not like a surgical intervention is new to him, and he hasn’t given any indication that his condition has worsened since the second surgery.

      I believe the reason he had to retire (this is just speculation and extrapolation based on my experience working on an inpatient physical rehab unit) is that the brain stem is very important for motor coordination and sensory perception/feedback, and any procedure done in that area of the brain will negatively affect those abilities. To play a professional sport, you need an extreme amount of motor coordination and sensory abilities; these guys are at the far, far, far right of the normal distribution curve. Westmoreland almost certainly can’t operate on that level now, but that doesn’t mean he can’t live a normal-semi-normal life.

      It’s hard to say without more info, but I don’t see any reason in his statement to suggest he is declining neurologically.

      • jwbiii - Mar 6, 2013 at 4:04 PM

        Yeah, that sounds like the most positive scenario.

  10. thebadguyswon - Mar 6, 2013 at 3:38 PM

    Best of luck to the young man.

  11. mianfr - Mar 6, 2013 at 5:19 PM

    Absolute shame for this to happen to anyone, glad to see he’s resolute in his decision.

    Hope to hear good things about him in an SI “Where are they now?” issue in a few years.

  12. offseasonblues - Mar 6, 2013 at 6:37 PM

    “… he’s still a 22-year-old with a bright future ahead of him”

    Bright indeed. Go Ryan!

  13. hockeyflow33 - Mar 6, 2013 at 8:53 PM

    It’s great that he’s healthy.

    What a decisions to decide to go pro instead of college. He was given all the best medical care in the world at basically no cost and still received $2 million. At least he was able to make this horrendous situation into a positive.

  14. neveraboutveracity - Mar 6, 2013 at 9:20 PM

    I really feel for him. As several on this board have mentioned, the hope is that he will be able to live a fulfilling life. Even though his statement showed tremendous optimism and maturity, it must be so difficult to keep from wondering to himself what kind of player he might have become. If that happened to me, I would probably dwell on that to the point of obsession. I wish him all the best in coming to peace with this.

  15. janessa31888 - Mar 7, 2013 at 8:23 AM

    Can someone tell me what a cavernous malformation is? It sounds ominous, but Ive never heard that term before. I had unexplained seizures for years and know how frightening it is when your brain goes on the blink.

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