MIAMI – Ryan Freel, a former Major League Baseball player known for his fearless play but whose career was cut short after eight seasons by a series of head and other injuries, was found dead Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla., according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
Freel, who was 36, died of what appeared to be a self-inflicted shotgun wound, sheriff’s office spokesman Shannon Hartley wrote in an email Sunday.
The medical examiner will make the final determination of the cause of death.
“RIP Ryan Freel!! Great teammate, great guy, loved his family!” former Cincinnati Reds teammate Sean Casey tweeted. “Such a sad day today with his passing! Awful news! Prayers are with his family!”
The speedy Freel spent six of his eight big league seasons with the Reds and finished his career in 2009 with a .268 average and 143 steals.
“Really hurt by his passing!” Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips said on Twitter. “You’ll never be forgotten.”
Freel drew attention in 2006 when he was quoted by the Dayton Daily News as saying he had an imaginary friend, Farney. “He’s a little guy who lives in my head who talks to me and I talk to him,” Freel was quoted as saying. “Everybody thinks I talk to myself, so I tell ’em I’m talking to Farney.”
The Jacksonville native thrilled fans with his all-out style, yet it took a toll on his career. During his playing days, he once estimated he had sustained up to 10 concussions. Freel missed 30 games in 2007 after an outfield collision with teammate Norris Hopper caused a concussion.
Freel showed no fear as he ran into walls, hurtled into the seats and crashed into other players trying to make catches. His jarring, diving grabs often made the highlight reels, and he was praised by those he played with and against for always having a dirt-stained uniform.