Freel's father announces award designed to honor infielder's hustle, heart
CINCINNATI -- For the 10th straight summer, children ages 6-12 have taken advantage of the Reds Rookie Success League, a camp that teaches the basics of baseball at five different locations throughout Ohio and Kentucky.
Much to the delight of Reds right fielder Jay Bruce, another aspect of the program has been emphasized this year.
"Something they've incorporated this year more than I've seen in years past -- not saying they didn't do it -- but the character building part of it," Bruce said. "They're using the word 'respect' today, and that's something that's very important in sports and life. Aside from the baseball aspect of it, that's good, too."
Bruce, pitcher Tony Cingrani and catcher Devin Mesoraco made their way to Schmidt Fields in the East End of Cincinnati on Wednesday morning, instructing and assisting more than 200 kids with pitching, hitting and other skills. Reds CEO Bob Castellini and Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan were also on hand to address the kids.
However, the featured guests were the family members of former Reds player Ryan Freel, who were on hand to introduce the Ryan Freel Heart and Hustle Award.
Freel, a utility player for the Reds from 2003-08, became a fan favorite thanks to his effort and hustle. He retired from baseball in '09, and in December of last year, committed suicide at the age of 36.
His father, Patrick Freel, Sr., introduced the award that is designed to honor the way Freel played the game.
"He never walked on the field, he never walked off the field," Patrick Freel, Sr., said. "He had fun playing the game, and he gave it everything he had."
Ryan Freel was also revered in the Cincinnati area for the work he did in the community, including with the Reds Rookie Success League. His father said he was turned down for many vacations and fishing trips so Ryan could volunteer with area kids.
The winner of the award will be announced on July 5, which is the final day of camp. Bruce, who briefly played with Freel during Spring Training 2008, said his former teammate carried himself in a way that made him the perfect person to have an award in his honor.
"For them to do that, that speaks volumes to Ryan as a person and what he meant to the organization," Bruce said. "He gave it his all every day on the field, and for them to introduce an award, a lot of these kids probably don't understand what that means or really the role Ryan played in the Reds community, but it was a big one."
Jeremy Warnemuende is an associate reporter for MLB.com.