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Westmoreland takes an important step in long journey back

08.31.10 at 8:37 pm ET
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In 2009, Ryan Westmoreland left a hole in the wall of the Lowell Spinners' LeLacheur Park on a spectacular catch. (Image courtesy Lowell Spinners)

LOWELL – Six months ago, Ryan Westmoreland literally needed to be held up by his belt to take swings with a whiffle ball bat in the hospital.

On Tuesday, the 20-year-old Red Sox prospect showed some encouraging signs as he participated in another round of baseball activities in his long road back from brain surgery.

Westmoreland, who underwent a procedure to remove a cavernous malformation from his brain stem in March, spent the early afternoon taking roughly 60 swings off a tee and in rounds of soft toss at LeLacheur Park with the Lowell Spinners, the site of his last minor league stint with the Red Sox organization.

“I hit the ball pretty well for being only six months out,” said Westmoreland, who plans on rehabbing in Lowell until Thursday before heading down to Greenville to work with the Single-A Drive for the remainder of its season. “I’m not nearly in the shape that I used to be, but I feel great.”

The organization is taking it slow with Westmoreland in his recovery.

“It’s all on him as far as how he feels and how he’s going to progress,” said Spinners’ manager Bruce Crabbe. “What he’s capable of and we are just going to ride the wave and see where it takes us.”

His work in the batting cage took place well before the rest of the team went out for its regular work. Westmoreland said he has hit the ball off the tee on 10 different occasions during his rehab and stepped up to soft toss — from the side and from in front — only a couple of times.

But this small step can be seen as a major victory in the recovery process, both mentally and physically.

It was Westmoreland’s father, Ron, who remembered watching his son go through some aggressive rehab just a week after the life-threatening surgery in Phoenix.

“It was actually Andre Ethier’s brother who was one of the therapists. He put a whiffle ball bat in (Ryan’s) hand and they had to hold (Ryan) up by his belt,” said Ron Westmoreland. “They were pitching him balls and he was swinging and he was making contact. That was a pretty inspirational moment.”

Both father and son have said the doctors have been impressed where the prospect is in his recovery process, but one of the biggest hurdles that he has had to overcome is the ability to regain his eyesight.

Westmoreland said he was close to being legally blind after the surgery and in the first couple of months he had trouble watching television and movies. He slowly moved up to playing golf and worked on building muscle memory watching things that stood still.

Now he has 20/20 vision in his right eye and 20/25 in his left. His vision was a perfect 20/20 in both eyes before the surgery. His goal is to build up enough momentum with the soft toss from different angles where he can take regular batting practice, but he had no timetable on when that would happen.

“I saw a quick improvement,” said Westmoreland. “My eyes have learned how to focus on things that are still, it’s just now they are learning how to focus on things coming at me.”

For now Westmoreland will have to be a cheering teammate on the bench at whatever level he goes to work out. On this night, Westmoreland was introduced to a loud ovation before the Spinners game against the Tri-City Valley Cats — an affiliate of the Houston Astros.

Some prospects would be disappointed returning to the same level for a second straight year, but Westmoreland plans on taking small victories one step at a time until one day he can put on the Red Sox uniform in Boston.

“It was amazing just because, at one point, there was a question about whether I was going to do anything again – breath, walk,” he said. “To be able to now do baseball activities – and pretty advanced activity for baseball and rehab – it’s great. To be able to do the thing I love, play baseball, although it’s second to being alive, which I’ve taken grips to, it’s special just to be around the game.”

“I’m alive,” he added. “And now let’s work back and let’s try to get to Fenway.”

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