If you’re in the mood for holiday inspiration, this is the podcast for you.
Today’s guest is a former Red Sox prospect from Rhode Island — two-time brainstem surgery survivor Ryan Westmoreland, who had his dream of playing professional baseball taken away in 2010 when doctors discovered a cavernous malformation on his brain.
In the decade-plus since, Westmoreland has re-written his inspiring story by staying involved in baseball as a coach and travel ball director. He is currently the assistant coach at UMass Dartmouth as well as the program director for the Ocean State Makos.
“I was always a big believer in not only being a good athlete and player but being a good person,” Westmoreland said. “You never know who is watching or how you might impact others. I was recruited by Tim Corbin at Vanderbilt, and he told me he looked for that kind of stuff. I was a respectful, good person off the field, and he told me that meant a lot to him. A lot of people on the outside notice that type of thing.
“I always preach to my players, be a respectful, good person,” Westmoreland said. “I tell the UMass guys, I know you’re good players. Be a good person off the field; that’s going to last. How you are as a person will last. Playing baseball for me was cut short. It’s going to end for everyone at some point. Your impact is how you are as a person. That’s the message I’ve always tried to get across to my players.”
Westmoreland was drafted out of Portsmouth High (R.I.) by the Red Sox in the fifth round of the 2008 MLB Draft. A Vanderbilt commit, Westmoreland chose to sign for $2 million and forego his scholarship offer with the rising SEC program. Baseball Prospectus ranked Westmoreland as MLB’s 14th-best prospect in 2010.
Westmoreland’s life changed dramatically in February of 2010 when doctors discovered a cavernous malformation that twice had bled into his brain.
By the time he had the first of what has become 19 brain surgeries in March of 2010, he was 19 years old, totally blind and half deaf, and he didn’t have the balance to stand on his own. He underwent emergency brain stem surgery in Phoenix.
“Before I went into surgery, the surgeon really wasn’t sure of how it would go because of where the bleed was on my brain stem,” Westmoreland said. “The effects could have been anything from coma, to paralysis, to death, or even something like having hiccups for the rest of my life. I was 19 years old at the time; I had no idea what rehab would be like or if I’d even make it out. It was a trying time for me, my family and friends.
“As a young guy, a professional athlete at the top of my game … all of these publications came out … at the drop of a hat, I didn’t know if my career would end,” Westmoreland said. “Never mind whether or not I’d live much longer.”
After Westmoreland’s first brain surgery, his physical gifts were severely compromised. He lost feeling in the right side of his body, and what once were simple chores like tying his shoes provided minutes upon minutes of frustration.
Westmoreland shocked doctors by working his way back to professional baseball. In the winter of 2011, he played in the Dominican Instructional League. In a cruel twist of fate, doctors found that the cavernous malformation on his brain re-formed in July of 2012. He underwent a second brain surgery and retired from baseball at the age of 22.
“The whole depression and suicide contemplation for me was based on a ‘why me’ type of thing,” Westmoreland said. “Being so young and gifted athletically, I went from feeling good about myself to having absolutely nothing going. I went from running a 6.2 to taking 30 minutes to tie my shoes. It was a shock. I kept going back to, ‘why me’ when my friends kept getting called up (to the majors). I thought it should have been me.
“It was a tough thing for a young kid to swallow,” Westmoreland said. “It forced me to mature. I had two options: end it right then and there. Give in to what I was thinking. Or I could go another route, which I ended up taking. Use what I had gone through to try to impact and inspire others, whether they’re athletes or not. I felt like sharing my story would be impactful.”
Listen to Westmoreland’s story on the New England Baseball Journal Podcast.
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