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As Lowell Spinners honor his baseball career, Ryan Westmoreland continues adjustment to life after baseball

06.25.14 at 11:55 pm ET
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LOWELL — Ryan Westmoreland has spent the last year of his life just trying to find normalcy. But after retiring from baseball at the age of 22 in March 2013, things have been anything but normal.

Each day presents new challenges for Westmoreland as he confronts the aftermath of two surgeries to remove cavernous malformations in his brain stem, the first in March 2010 and then again in the summer of 2012. He sees double, is completely numb on his right side and has a partial facial paralysis. Things that once seemed so ordinary are now hard to do. He has trouble staying balanced and getting dressed has become the most daunting part of the day.

“I used to be able to hit a 95 mile an hour fastball,” Westmoreland said. “Now I can’t tie my shoes.”

It’s now been half a decade since Westmoreland’s magical summer of his pro debut with the Lowell Spinners in 2009. Then, he was a 19-year-old fifth-round Red Sox draft pick out of high school in Portsmouth, R.I., who made an immediate impact with the organization. He played in 60 games with the Spinners, hitting .296/.401/.484 with 25 extra base hits, seven of them home runs, 35 RBIs, 28 runs scored and was a perfect 19-for-19 in stolen base attempts, leading the Spinners to a division title and playoff appearance.

Westmoreland’s stock catapulted. Just one year into his professional career he was viewed as the top prospect in the Red Sox organization, a potential 30/30 center fielder. Dreams of playing at Fenway Park were within reach.

But those dreams disappeared quickly after he was diagnosed with a cavernous malformation on his brain stem the following spring, a condition that required risky and potentially life-threatening surgery. Three years and two brain surgeries later, he was forced to retire.

“It was really tough,” Westmoreland said. “When I came here, I realized what pro ball is like playing everyday, and I was starting to get used to it. I was feeling really good about myself on the field. Having to switch has been night and day for me because I was so used to playing the game I loved, getting used to things on the field, and to have that taken away was tragic.”

Westmoreland has since concentrated on moving on. He’s taking online classes at Northeastern –€” in fact, he has a final exam Thursday night –€” has been lifting weights to try to stay in shape and said he’s been setting aside hours each day to perform rehab-specific exercises to improve his coordination.

“It’s stuff that I’m working hard at,” he said.

But while adapting to his new life, all the memories of 2009 came back Wednesday night when the Lowell Spinners retired his number in right field, the first number to be retired by the club. Now his No. 25 rests to the left of former Red Sox greats such as Bobby Doerr and Ted Williams at LeLacheur Park.

“It’s an honor,” Westmoreland, 24, told reporters at a press conference behind home plate before Wednesday’s game. “When they told me this December I was speechless. It took months to even set in. When I came here in 2009 I was an immature 19-year-old. This organization took me in like family and that’s huge for a kid that’s used to playing in front 10, 20 people everyday.

“To be able to have an organization have my back, not only when I was playing but now that I’m not, it’s special for me and my family, everyone that supported me. I feel like the Lowell Spinners have had my back non-stop through my whole life. I’ll be forever grateful for that.”

Westmoreland added: “It’s amazing. I was here in 2009, a 19-year-old kid, didn’t know what to expect. I had a great summer here, one I’ll never forget. The Spinners have been more than generous throughout my whole career and even after it.”

Wednesday night was a high point for Westmoreland in a year of what he admitted has been “mostly downs.” Mentally, he said he’s as well as he’s been since his last surgery. But the physical limitations affect him daily.

Adjusting to life without baseball has certainly been hard for Westmoreland. He’s watched Red Sox broadcasts on a regular basis and at times couldn’t help but wonder what could have been.

But now, Westmoreland said he’s shifted his focus to education, and hopes to potentially have some sort of career in baseball or sports in general. The new aspirations have only helped the moving on process.

“That’s certainly something that’s kept my attention,” he said. “It’s something that, instead of sitting on the couch everyday thinking, what if, or trying to adjust to my new self, I have school, I have things that keep me occupied. I’m happy about that because I don’t want to be a couch potato, just sitting, thinking all day. I have stuff that’ll keep me occupied and keep my mind going and I’m happy about that.”

Westmoreland reflects on his 2009 self as an “immature 19-year-old kid.” But his growth over the last four years and maturation as a person, he said, is the reason he’s been able get through such adversity.

And Westmoreland said he plans to continue fighting through and overcoming the challenges of each new day.

“It’s getting better, I’m working at it. It’s certainly frustrating, I won’t lie to you about that,” he said. “It is something I’m getting used to. It’ll take a while but I don’t plan on ever quitting.”

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