Freel attended Tallahassee Community College and was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 13th round of the 1994 amateur entry draft, but did not sign. A year later, he was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 10th round of the 1995 amateur draft. Freel played 6 seasons in the Toronto minor league system before making his Major League debut on April 4, 2001. He only played in 9 games for the Blue Jays in his rookie year, hitting .273 with 0 home runs, 3 RBI and 2 stolen bases. After the season was over, Freel was granted free agency and signed with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Freel played the entire 2002 season in the minor leagues with the Durham Bulls, the Triple-A affiliate of the Devil Rays. He hit .261 with 8 home runs, 48 RBIs, 37 steals. On November 18, 2002, he signed with the Cincinnati Reds as a free agent.
In five seasons with the Reds, Freel hit .270 with 22 home runs, 104 runs batted in, and 134 stolen bases. His best season for the Reds was in 2004, when he hit .277 with 3 home runs, 28 RBI, 37 stolen bases, and 74 runs scored in 143 games. In 2007, Freel signed a two-year, $3 million contract extension with the Reds.
Freel gained some notoriety in August of 2006 when The Dayton Daily News reported that Freel talks to an imaginary voice in his head named Farney. Said Freel: "He's a little guy who lives in my head who talks to me and I talk to him. That little midget in my head said, 'That was a great catch, Ryan,' I said, 'Hey, Farney, I don't know if that was you who really caught that ball, but that was pretty good if it was.' Everybody thinks I talk to myself, so I tell 'em I'm talking to Farney." Freel later said that Farney's name arose from a conversation with Reds trainer Mark Mann: "He actually made a comment like, 'How are the voices in your head?' We'd play around and finally this year he said, 'What's the guy's name?' I said, 'Let's call him Farney.' So now everybody's like, 'Run, Farney, run' or 'Let Farney hit today. You're not hitting very well.'"
On May 28, 2007, Freel was injured in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates when chasing a deep drive to right-center field. Freel and right fielder Norris Hopper collided, resulting in Freel's head and neck hitting Hopper and finally the warning track. He was transported by ambulance to Good Samaritan Hospital, where he was reported to be coherent with feeling in his extremities. Freel began working out on June 15, about 2 weeks after the collision. He was briefly sent to the AAA Louisville Bats for rehabilitation. Freel began getting random headaches and pains in his head, which delayed his return for another 2 weeks. On July 3, 2007, 1 month and 5 days after the accident, Freel returned to play for the Cincinnati Reds and was healthy until being placed on the 15-day DL with torn cartilage in his right knee on August 7.
Freel was known for versatility in the field, playing all three outfield positions, second base, and third base; Freel was also known for making many acrobatic plays. He was a threat on the basepaths, once totaling 110 stolen bases over a three-year period (37 in 2004, 36 in 2005, and 37 in 2006). He does not hit for power (hitting only 22 home runs in his career) but does get on base, with a career .358 on-base percentage, and has scored 278 runs in 505 career games.
On December 22, 2012, Freel died at his Jacksonville, Florida home as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. After his death, Freel's family donated his brain tissue to Boston University for research into chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). In December 2013, a postmortem examination by the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy showed that he was suffering from Stage II CTE, making him the first MLB player to have been diagnosed with the disease.
- ↑ Orioles acquire three players from Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Ramon Hernandez
- ↑ Sportsline.com
- ↑ SignOnSanDiego.com > Sports - With Freel, Reds have four in outfield
- ↑ Baseball Prospectus | Articles | The Week In Quotes: August 7-13
- ↑ Sheldon, Mark. "Freel exits on stretcher after collision", MLB.com, 2007-05-28. Retrieved on 2007-05-28.
- ↑ Freel arrested for disorderly intoxication. MLB.com. Retrieved on 2008-09-07.
- ↑ Notes: Beattie eyeing GM position. MLB.com. Retrieved on 2008-09-07.