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Westmoreland: ‘I Left My Mark’

01.09.10 at 2:06 pm ET

It was the sort of story that takes on the life of an urban legend. Ryan Westmoreland’s season came – quite literally – to a crashing halt when he broke his left clavicle while running into the outfield wall in Lowell.

The injury, which took place in the early days of September, required season-ending surgery, from which Westmoreland is expected to make a full recovery. The outfielder hopes that the injury will soon be forgotten.

Even so, the crash that caused it is unlikely to disappear from memory anytime soon. That is inevitable, given the accounts (disputed by some) that suggested that Westmoreland ran through the fence in left-center at LeLacheur Park in Lowell while making a phenomenal grab.

“I ran into the wall. I was out cold, so I don’t remember if I ran through it,” said Westmoreland, who was in Boston on Saturday for the New Stars for Young Stars event, a fundraiser for the Jimmy Fund that introduces minor-leaguers to Red Sox fans. “But the next day I went out there and there was a hole in the left-field wall, and it was right around where I hit. I kind of put it together. I left my mark, I guess you could say.”

Yes, he hears references to “The Natural” with frequency. Even so, Westmoreland has no interest in being known as the next Bump Bailey (a character in the Natural whose death while running through a wall opened the door for Roy Hobbs, or Rodney McCray, the minor leaguer who became famous for running through a wall preceding an undistinguished big-league career in which he had just 15 plate appearances.

Towards that end, Westmoreland has been very pleased with the course of his rehab, in which he’s been strengthening both shoulders (his left for this year’s broken clavicle, and his right as he is 14 months removed from surgery to repair his labrum). Next week, he will head to Fort Myers to continue his rehab and begin baseball activities. He anticipates no limitations by the start of the season.

“Everything feels really good,” Westmoreland said. “I should be 100 percent by spring training.”

There, Westmoreland hopes to build on what was a phenomenal first full professional season. He hit .296 with a .401 OBP, .484 slugging mark, .885 OPS, seven homers and 19 steals without getting caught once. Given the weather-induced limits of playing high-school ball in New England, the Rhode Island native was pleasantly surprised by how he was able to handle both an expanded schedule and a higher level of competition than what he’d experienced as an amateur.

“I never really knew how to play everyday. A 75-game schedule is a lot different than a 20-game schedule in high school. The first couple weeks were tough physically, mentally trying to keep myself there. But I think I settled in the last three-quarters of the season,” said Westmoreland. “The first week or so of the season, I was kind of nervous. I’d never really seen college pitchers. But I think I adjusted and ended up putting up pretty good numbers. It was really motivating for me knowing that I could compete at that level.”

The accolades were far reaching. Scouts and talent evaluators raved about him, suggesting that his far-reaching skill set — an advanced plate approach and knowledge of the strike zone, power, speed in both the outfield and on the bases, good routes and a strong arm — bore some resemblance to that of a superstar centerfielder like Grady Sizemore. He was named the top prospect in the Red Sox system by Baseball America.

“It’s a great honor,” said Westmoreland, “but it really doesn’t mean anything unless I produce.”

Naturally, such hype made it inevitable that his name would emerge in trade rumors. There is little doubt, after all, that other teams would love to acquire such a player. He has already heard his name brought up in trade rumors for players such as Roy Halladay and Adrian Gonzalez.

Westmoreland — who grew up rooting for the Red Sox — would like to remain in the organization. But he recognizes that little good can come of concerning himself with trade rumors.

“It would be great to get to Boston because I’ve been a Red Sox fan my whole life. It would definitely be a special experience. At the same time, I’m still fighting for a spot. Being from New England doesn’t help me in any way or hurt me,” said Westmoreland. “Really, I don’t deal with [rumors]. I kind of just let it happen. I get text messages and calls all the time, and I just say, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen.’ I just tried to focus on the offseason, get stronger. If something happens, it happens. I try to block all that stuff out, because if I let it get to me, especially if it’s in the season, it’s going to affect the way I play. That’s exactly not what I want to do.”

Instead, Westmoreland is focused on the 2010 season, which will offer him his first experience with a full-season affiliate. He will play in Single-A, away from home, most likely in Greenville of the South Atlantic League. It is a challenge that the 19-year-old takes seriously.

“This is going to be my first full season. That’s going to be a big thing,” said Westmoreland. “I’m really looking for it. This season, 70 games was long for me, but I think I’m ready. I’ve been preparing all offseason because I know I’m probably going to get in a full-season situation. I’ve been trying to prepare myself physically and mentally.”

Read More: bump bailey, Rodney McCray, ryan westmoreland,
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