Ryan Westmoreland, once the Red Sox’ top prospect, said his despair in the wake of a 2013 retirement led him to consider suicide.
As the opening speaker at the SaberSeminar — an annual conference focused on the intersection of Sabermetrics, scouting, and science in the baseball world, from which proceeds went this year to The Jimmy Fund and the Angioma Alliance — the 26-year-old spoke frankly about the difficulties he faced in recovering from two separate brain stem surgeries to remove cavernous malformations (raspberry-shaped tangles of blood vessels in the brain), first in 2010 and then again in 2012, and the devastation of learning that the second of those surgeries would end his playing career.
Westmoreland, a Portsmouth, R.I., native who was taken in the fifth round of the 2008 draft and signed with the Red Sox for a $2 million bonus, was considered one of the most talented prospects to enter the Red Sox system in decades. He spent his lone professional season playing for the Lowell Spinners in 2009, hitting .296 with a .401 OBP and .484 slugging percentage with seven homers and 19 stolen bases without being caught in 60 games.
“I exceeded all expectations,” Westmoreland said. “I was ranked the Red Sox’ No. 1 top prospect. The future was looking really bright. I got to see my name pop up on websites and magazines, ‘This Westmoreland kid is going to be at Fenway a lot sooner than anyone thought.’ That was all being said about me until one night.”
That night came in early 2010, when Westmoreland woke up throughout the night unable to see, hear, balance, or sit up straight. An emergency CT scan and MRI revealed the cavernous malformation that had twice bled into his brain, resulting in emergency surgery.
“I was determined to fight and get back to being the old Ryan Westmoreland who everyone knew and who I knew was in there,” said Westmoreland, who described “countless” hours of rehab and speech therapy to reach a point where he could play in a competitive game in the Red Sox’ Dominican instructional league in December 2011. (He recalled with some amusement that the pitcher on the mound for his first at-bat hit him on the back of the neck with a stray pitch.)
“That was incredible,” said Westmoreland. “I said, ‘If I can do this, I can get back to the Red Sox and eventually play at Fenway Park.’ ”
In July 2012, however, doctors found another cavernous malformation that had bled. Westmoreland required a second brain stem surgery, which forced a devastating realization.
“After the [second brain] surgery, I couldn’t feel anything . . . My right ear was 100 percent deaf. My left eye was 100 percent blind. At that point, I said, ‘You know what? I can’t do this anymore. I have to retire.’ I retired from pro baseball at 22 years old,” Westmoreland said. “The next few weeks after that were without question the most challenging of my life. I would curl up on the couch and constantly ask myself, ‘Why me? Why did this happen to a 21-year-old kid? This many surgeries, this young, why me?’ I thought about suicide. I really did, multiple times. I would think to myself in bed, this is just a huge nightmare. Every day is just the worst day ever. Part of me just wanted it all to end, to just call it quits.”
Westmoreland — who in addition to the two brain stem surgeries also has had to undergo 16 additional related procedures — said that he found purpose in the decision to devote himself to raising awareness about his condition. Specifically, he felt that by becoming an activist on behalf of the Angioma Alliance — dedicated to improving the lives of those with cavernous malformations while trying to promote nonsurgical solutions to the condition — he could help others whose lives are affected by the condition.
“I had two options: 1. End my life, take care of it right then; or 2. Do everything that I could do to raise awareness and ensure that maybe one day, no one has to go through what I did,” he said. “It’s a battle. I survived through a combination of my fight, my willpower to live, and this giant support system I’ve had throughout the world, like the Angioma Alliance. It’s helped me feel like I’m not alone and it’s going to get better.”
Westmoreland is now working as a personal trainer, coaching high school baseball, and taking classes while speaking about the role that the Angioma Alliance has played in his life over the past six years.
“I know this is a really sad story, but on the bright side, I’m alive, I’m standing up on my own, without any help,” he said. “For the first time in a while, I’m truly happy.”