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Silverman: Eight years later, Ryan Westmoreland eases into life away from baseball
FORT MYERS — As anniversaries go, yesterday’s was not the kind Ryan Westmoreland necessarily wanted to celebrate with a great deal of mirth and merriment.
A tweet saying “Crazy that it’s been 8 years today. Never give up #BrainsShouldntBleed” just about covered it for Westmoreland.
These days, Westmoreland lives in Portsmouth, R.I., with his girlfriend and works at the baseball facility in Somerset, In the Zone Baseball Club, which he and his dad run.
He spends as little time as possible reflecting on his lengthy list of misfortunes.
On Monday, he had his 16th surgery since March 16, 2010, a facial reanimation surgery where a nerve from his ankle was implanted into his right cheek to help even out his currently lopsided expressions and smile. He’s figuring out what kind of baseball-centric career he can forge for himself.
(Hey, Dave Dombrowski and 29 other baseball heads, Westmoreland thinks he would be a good scout.)
The baseball career Westmoreland intended to have should have put him in center field for last night’s spring training game, a star if not a superstar already, a player blessed with all five tools and all the passion and drive needed to maximize those skills.
He should be playing with Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Christian Vazquez and Jackie Bradley Jr.
Instead, Westmoreland keeps in touch with those four players via text and phone.
With eight years of distance from the brain surgery that took him on this detour, Westmoreland looks on from afar as an observer, not a participant.
And he’s OK with that.
“At first I was a little bitter — nothing personally, just that I was always thinking ‘That could have been me,’ ” the 27-year-old said. “But over time I’ve kind of matured and I’m really just happy for them and really excited to watch them on TV. I talk to them when I can. I remember how exciting that would have been if that were me getting that call, but now I’m just happy for them and glad to see that they’re doing so well and having success.”
Eight years ago, Westmoreland began to experience numbness on his right side while here for spring training. An MRI revealed the presence of a large mass on his brain stem that at first doctors in Arizona believed should not be removed due to its precarious location. But when Westmoreland’s condition worsened rapidly, a delicate, six-hour emergency brain surgery meant to stop the bleeding from a cavernous malformation — a twisted, tumorous mass of bleeding blood vessels — became the only option.
“I remember it like it was yesterday, oh yeah,” he said. “Some parts of it I forget, but some parts I have very clear images of exactly what happened. I had to be (at the hospital) at like 3 a.m., really early morning, and just being really nervous and not really knowing what it would be like. Later that day when I woke up, it was kind of scary just because there was so much unknown about everything I was going to feel like.”
Westmoreland tried to come back after his surgery, but in 2012 he needed another brain surgery. A year later he retired from baseball at the tender age of 22, a transition that led to several tough years in which he reached the lowest depths of morale — he considered suicide, he revealed two years ago in a speech — before deciding to move on, accept his limitations and try to help others with his work with the Angioma Alliance, which is a nonprofit health organization created by those affected by cerebral cavernous malformations.
He understands his plight, but he is no longer sorry for himself.
“I like any chance I have to shed light on my story and what I’ve been through,” he said. “I’d like to help people in any way I can. Not necessarily have people go through what I went through but going through adversity and to keep plugging, take it day by day and always be optimistic, anything can happen and nothing’s impossible.
“Yes, over the course of time, me being thrown into this situation, I got pretty mature pretty quickly. I learned how to deal with things, the right way to go about thinking about what I’ve been through and where I go from here. The combination of talking with friends, family and also taking a look in the mirror and instead of sulking and being sad, trying to use what I went through to help others.”
The sulking is over for Westmoreland.
There’s a lilt to his voice, a hard-earned acceptance about his bad-luck tale.
He’s eight years removed from the beginning of that bad luck.
As much as he can, he’s leaving all that behind.