Ryan Westmoreland, a former top prospect in the Boston Red Sox organization who underwent two brain surgeries, announced his retirement from professional baseball on Wednesday.
The 22-year-old Rhode Island native has made a remarkable recovery from two life-threatening surgeries that stemmed from a cavernous malformation on his brain. The former outfielder and Portsmouth (R.I.) High School standout attempted a comeback in the Red Sox minor league system before deciding to retire.
"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 email. "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, and searching for 'the reason' that this has happened. I believe that there is a plan for me that will utilize my experiences, however painful some may have been, to do something special in my life. It is time for me to find that path, and to pursue it with the same focus and effort that I pursued the dream of playing professional baseball."
After the Red Sox selected him in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, Westmoreland quickly showed promise as a five-tool player. In 2009, he showcased those abilities at Single-A Lowell, hitting .296 with seven home runs, 35 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in 60 games for the Spinners.
But in spring 2010, the malformation in his brain began to bleed, and Westmoreland needed emergency surgery on March 16. During his recovery, the goal of returning to professional baseball helped him battle through the life-changing rehab.
He suffered a setback last summer and needed a second surgery on July 13.
"Regardless of this result, I have been very fortunate throughout my professional career and the last three years of recovery and rehabilitation," he said. "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."
Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, who was involved with scouting and drafting Westmoreland, on Wednesday called him "a remarkable young man" and "an incredibly talented baseball player."
"[We were] really excited to sign him and he showed a lot early in his time with the Red Sox," said Cherington. "Like I said, and I told this to Ryan the other day, you know, for some reason some people don't get dealt the same hand, and some of those hands are unfair and he got dealt a bad hand. 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 and I can't imagine anyone else handling this the way he did."
Westmoreland, who had turned down a scholarship to attend Vanderbilt in order to sign with the Red Sox, has decided to pursue his college degree. He hopes to return to baseball in some capacity in the future.
"I think most importantly, the first step for him is maybe take a step away in the short term, and really figure out the path that makes sense for him and we'll support him in doing that," said Cherington.
"The relationships will certainly remain and we'll help him any way we can," he added. "And I do believe, if he wants to pursue baseball down the road, he'll have that opportunity. I was in scouting when he signed, then I was an assistant GM and now I'm GM, but taking all those hats aside, as a friend of Ryan I think it's best to take a little time away from the Red Sox."
Triple-A Pawtucket manager Gary DiSarcina, who managed Westmoreland in Lowell, recently said the door always would be open if Westmoreland wanted to work for him someday.
Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester, a cancer survivor, said he empathizes with Westmoreland and wishes him well.
"It's obviously tough," he said. "I think he's what, 22? Tough deal. I can imagine probably right around the same age as me going through that. Just calling it quits, that's gotta be tough. But I wish him the best of luck. Hopefully he can still pursue something in baseball and be involved. He's a good kid. Just the little bit I got to talk to him, obviously the circumstances where I got to know him were different than him just being a baseball player, that was tough. I can say I wish him and his family nothing but the best and hopefully something will work out for him where he can still pursue his dream of being in the big leagues at some level with a baseball team."
Red Sox manager John Farrell also wished Westmoreland well.
"I'm aware of what's transpired today," Farrell said. "It's one of those stories that transpire within the game -- you see a very young talented player who's got all the physical gifts you would see in a bright young prospect. And certainly a shame what's transpired, something that's totally out of his control. I know the Red Sox continue to support him, and I think we can all learn from the way he's gone about the challenges he's encountered. This was one heckuva prospect at the time."
ESPN Boston Red Sox writer Gordon Edes contributed to this report.