FORT MYERS, Fla. — Outfielder Ryan Westmoreland, a Rhode Island native once considered the top prospect in the Red Sox organization, ended his comeback from two brain surgeries and announced his retirement Wednesday.
Westmoreland, who will turn 23 next month, underwent surgery in March 2010 to correct an abnormal growth of blood vessels in his brain. He had similar surgery last July.
Westmoreland continued working out at team facilities for several years despite the long odds that he ever would return to a competitive level. He made what was considered remarkable progress after the first surgery, but the second procedure left him unable to play.
“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,” Westmoreland wrote in an e-mail.
“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.
“In my heart, I know that I have worked as hard as one possibly could to overcome the obstacles presented by this unfortunate series of events. It is with that confidence that I am comfortable turning the page.”
Westmoreland plans to pursue a college degree and hopes to work in baseball in some capacity.
Westmoreland was a fifth-round pick in the 2008 draft and passed up a scholarship to Vanderbilt in favor of a $2 million bonus from the Red Sox. He played one season, hitting .296 with Lowell in 2009.
Part of his contract with the Red Sox included college expenses. General manager Ben Cherington said he urged Westmoreland to “step away” from the Sox and take some time to decide his future.
“Ryan’s a remarkable young man,” Cherington said. “He was an incredibly talented baseball player, a special, special talent as a baseball player. We got to know him more as a person after the first incident a few years back and we’ve come to learn he’s more of an even special person.”
Cherington said Westmoreland inspired people in the organization with his courage and the grace with which he handled a difficult situation.
“For some reason, we don’t all get dealt the same hand and some of those hands aren’t fair and he got dealt a bad hand,” Cherington said. “But there’s a path for him he’s going to find and there’s going to be a lot of happiness in his future.”
Third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who knows Westmoreland well, said it was a tough day.
“I never got to play with him other than in spring training, but I’ve seen video of him playing and he would have been one of the best ballplayers to come through this organization,” Middlebrooks said. “You know when guys have it, and he had it.”
Ortiz to gear up
David Ortiz had a day off and is set for what John Farrell termed would be “an aggressive base-running day” Thursday. If that goes well, he would run again Friday and, in theory, get in a game over the weekend.
Ortiz, who is coming back from an Achilles’ tendon strain, would like to get 50 plate appearances in spring training before the start of the season April 1. Farrell said that would be possible if the Red Sox utilized minor league games.
The minor league spring training schedule starts March 13 and includes at least two games a day at the Fenway South complex. Those games have loose rules and Ortiz could get as many as eight plate appearances in a day.
Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski arrived this week and has been working with minor league players. The Red Sox legend, now 73, also watched the major league team take batting practice in the stadium with former teammates Jim Rice and Luis Tiant. Dustin Pedroia and Jonny Gomes were among the players who sought Yastrzemski out to say hello . . . Jensen Millar, the brother of rambunctious former Red Sox player Kevin Millar, handled the public address duties for the game at JetBlue Park. He is a finalist for the position at Fenway Park . . . Daniel Bard, who last pitched in a game on Feb. 25, is scheduled for an inning against the Twins Thursday. The Sox hope he has ironed out some mechanical issues related to his footwork . . . Farrell was still excited about the three shutout innings John Lackey threw against Puerto Rico’s World Baseball Classic team Tuesday night. “John was outstanding,” the manager said. “That was one of the more encouraging things of all of spring training and there’s been a number of positive things. Just the overall crispness of his stuff.”Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.