Why Mark Appel, Perhaps the Biggest Bust in MLB History, Is Stepping Away at 26

HOUSTON — He was watching from his couch last November, just three miles from Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros, when his friends and former team clinched the World Series. Mark Appel couldn't help but feel slightly bittersweet about it all.        

Four years ago, everyone expected Appel to be on that field right alongside them. He was the hometown kid who was supposed to become the franchise cornerstone, whose mere selection in the MLB draft was top-shelf news in the Houston Chronicle sports section. Remember that 2014 Sports Illustrated piece predicting the Astros' 2017 World Series title? Open it up, and he's right there, wearing the orange and gold alongside World Series MVP-to-be George Springer and superstar shortstop-to-be Carlos Correa.

Appel was supposed to be the centerpiece of the rebuild, the Joel Embiid to the Astros' Process.

Instead, they did it without him.

In 2013, the Astros chose Appel with the No. 1 pick, one selection ahead of Chicago Cubs MVP third baseman Kris Bryant. They signed him to a $6.35 million bonus after his senior year, when he posted a 2.12 ERA, struck out 130 batters and walked just 23 in 106.1 innings. Ben Reiter of Sports Illustrated called him "as risk-free a pitcher pick as has ever been made," while Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow deemed Appel, "the most significant investment the Astros have made in their history in an amateur player," per Brian McTaggart of MLB.com.

Evaluators expected Appel to reach the big leagues quickly, perhaps within a season, given his experience as a collegiate pitcher. But five seasons in pro ball, a 5.06 ERA and a 1.519 WHIP later, he still hasn't made the major leagues and only got as high as Triple-A. The Astros traded him two years ago as one of five pieces headed to the Phillies for closer Ken Giles.

And now, Appel is leaving the game behind, he tells Bleacher Report, taking an "indefinite break" from professional baseball. Should he never return to baseball, he would become just the third No. 1 overall pick to never make the major leagues, along with Brien Taylor of the New York Yankees (1991) and Steve Chilcott of the New York Mets (1966).

"Maybe we should all get together and have a party," Appel says with a laugh in his Houston home. "I don't know what the future holds. I'm pursuing other things, but also trying to become a healthy human."

Appel is currently rehabbing shoulder inflammation that hampered his 2017 season, but he has battled injuries his whole pro career. He pitched through soreness during his first season amid expectations that came with being a No. 1 overall pick, which only further exacerbated the pain. In 2016, he underwent season-ending surgery to remove a bone spur, and this season, as he sat alone in his Florida hotel room rehabbing his latest injury, Appel began to ponder life beyond the game.

"I'm 26, I have a Stanford degree, I have many interests beyond baseball, which I still love, but I have a lot of things I care about," Appel says. "I enjoy challenging my mind. My last four years in baseball have challenged my mind."

But the long minor league bus rides, the isolation during midseason injury rehab, the time away from his family—it all started to wear him down. The game he once loved wasn't as fun as it used to be. He'd lost his place in it. The team he was destined to star on was cruising to 101 wins, and he was rehabbing yet another injury. Asking himself the same question, over and over again.

Is baseball what he is supposed to be doing with his life?


There are often two windows through which to view life: expectation and reality.

Mark Appel never expected things to go perfectly, but he did expect things to go well. Harold Reynolds said at the 2013 MLB draft that he could be in the big leagues in August, two months later, and Appel, not knowing the level of talent in pro ball, didn't see why that couldn't become reality. He was the NCAA National Pitcher of the Year. MLB.com rated him the No. 17 prospect in baseball before 2014. The Sports Illustrated Astros prediction issue included a "dispatch from the future" from when Houston would win the World Series, stating "Righthander Mark Appel, the 2013 No. 1 pick, who arrived in the big league rotation in '16 was a Cy Young contender." Appel expected that of himself, too.

The reality: "There was times when I was the worst pitcher on my team," Appel says. "In 2014, maybe the worst pitcher in professional baseball."

That season, he could just never get right. Appel underwent a surprise appendectomy before the year and pitched only five innings in spring training. Then, he was sent to Single-A Lancaster, host of—as he learned from teammates—one of the best hitting environments in baseball due to the wind currents. On top that, there was a piggybacking system, which stacked starters, making them pitch every four days. Appel couldn't adjust and accumulated a 9.74 ERA in 44.1 innings. He didn't understand what was happening. He ran, he worked out, he went to the gym and prepared as much as he could, but whenever his turn to pitch came, the results were awful.

"I go out and pitch, and it's the same thing every time. I can't get an out," Appel says. "Walk. Hit. Walk. Hit. Then I'm out of the game. What just happened? Now it's like I have four days before I get my hopes up again, get excited, build that confidence, not caring what happened in the past. Then the same thing happens again."

He was having the worst season of his life—in a league of 20- and 21-year-olds. Ten starts in, on his 23rd birthday, Appel hit the mental reset button. He was scheduled to pitch the next day against the Visalia Rawhide, a chance to move past the 9.57 ERA he had posted as a 22-year-old.

Instead, he had the worst start of his life. Appel went 1.2 innings and allowed seven hits and seven runs while striking out two and walking one. He walked off the mound and watched the next inning before returning to the locker room, tears streaming down his face. He shut the door and screamed until his voice went hoarse. Across the locker room, about the distance from the pitching mound to home plate, he noticed a particle-board panel and a baseball lying on the ground next to him. He picked it up and threw it across the locker room as hard as he could, 100 mph, aiming for the wood.

The ball broke through and hit the drywall and sheetrock behind it.

"That felt good," Appel thought. "I need to do more of that."

He grabbed a box of balls sitting above a locker. For 30 minutes, Appel threw 80 baseballs at the wall, cracking through the board and hitting the wall with a thud. When he was finished, he sat down, breathing heavily, grunting. Ten minutes after the noise ended, Appel's teammate, Josh Hader, walked out of the bathroom. He had heard the entire ordeal and was too scared to leave the stall. The pair laughed before Hader returned to the field and silence filled the room. Appel heard the crowd cheering outside, the air conditioner purring in the background. 

 

After the game, Lancaster manager Rodney Linares assured Appel he would be fine, before disclosing he needed to pay for the repairs. The handyman quoted $600. It seemed like too much money for a simple repair, Appel thought. Instead, he figured he could repair it himself for a fraction of the cost.

So the next day, Appel visited Home Depot and picked up plywood, stain to match the wood and drywall mix. As he fixed the dents behind the destroyed plywood, Appel thought about one of his favorite Bible verses, Philippians 4:13. He recited the verse over and over again in his head. "I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me."

It's not unusual, of course, for an athlete to cite the passage while thanking God for his or her successes. But for Appel, it was about having the strength to endure struggle. Being the worst pitcher in professional baseball didn't mark the end of the world. Life would move on.

"I was in a place where I could enjoy my teammates' company, even if I wasn't playing well," Appel says. "Just enjoying that I do get to play baseball, being thankful for so many things God had provided. I think when you're caught up in the expectation and the pressure, you forget about it."


The next three seasons didn't fare much better for Appel. He finished with ERAs of 4.37, 4.46 and 5.14 while tumbling down the prospect rankings. "Next year" is what he always heard. In 2014, 2015 would be the year he made his major league debut. In 2015, it was 2016. In 2016, it was 2017. Always one year away.

As he struggled, his friends—Springer, Correa, Jose Altuve, Lance McCullers—rose up to The Show and became stars while forming the core of a potential Astros dynasty. Meanwhile, on the North Side of Chicago, Bryant, who many reported the Astros also considered No. 1 in 2013, blossomed into one of the sport's biggest stars. Aaron Judge, chosen 31 spots behind Appel in 2013, became a 52-homer sensation. And Appel just continued to grind away in the minors.

Sometimes Appel thinks about the what-ifs. It's only natural when you watch all of your friends win the World Series. The Astros almost drafted him in 2012, when he declared as a junior, but Luhnow chose Correa instead, and Appel fell to the Pirates at No. 8 overall and returned to college instead of signing. He wonders what would have happened if the Astros selected Bryant and he went to the Cubs.

"Things are absolutely different," Appel says. "I don't know if I'm four-and-a-half years later wanting to step away from the game, but I'm sure it has to be different. I never go to Lancaster, and that was an introduction to pro ball in the worst way possible. … If they choose me over Correa, do the Astros win a World Series?"

Appel doesn't dwell long on the hypotheticals, but he has begun to tell others of his struggles and journey. On a Wednesday during the World Series, Appel shared his testimony with the Sam Houston State baseball team. As a room full of pro baseball hopefuls stared back at him, Appel talked about how even as his major league dreams drained away, he remained hopeful.

"Do I want to be in the World Series? Do I want to be the guy? I thought three years ago, I thought I would be pitching Friday night, and I wouldn't be here," Appel told the team. "That was the expectation, the goal and the dream. God does things for reasons we sometimes can't understand, and won't understand for years down the road, or maybe never in this lifetime."

Given his current status as the third player selected No. 1 overall not to make the majors, Appel freely accepts the label of biggest MLB bust of all time.

"It depends on how you define it, but I probably am," Appel says. "I had high expectations. I didn't live up to those for a number of reasons. If you want to call me the biggest draft bust, you can call it that. … If I never get to the big leagues, will it be a disappointment? Yes and no. That was a goal and a dream I had at one point, but that's with stipulations that I'm healthy, I'm happy and doing something I love. If I get to the big leagues, what's so great about the big leagues if you're in an isolated place, you're hurt and you're emotionally unhappy? How much is that worth to you?"

Mark's brother, John, says he would not be surprised if a year from now, Mark feels the desire to come back to the game. Some scouts have suggested Appel become a reliever, following in the footsteps of former starters like Andrew Miller, Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar, who found success out of the bullpen.

For now, Appel is looking for an internship, potentially in private equity and business, and he's planning on applying to business school at Rice, University of Texas, Texas A&M, Stanford, Harvard, Penn, Northwestern and University of Chicago. He's excited to play Settlers of Catan or one of his 30 other board games with Josh, with whom he shares a one-floor home. He wants to turn the garage into a media room. And he's ready to just live in his house instead of renting it out on Airbnb, as he did last season.

It's time for him to set new goals and dreams.

"I'm a guy who loves a game, who had expectations, goals and dreams and then has had everything tumbling, and then everything was unmet," Appel says. "Would I have loved to be pitching in the World Series? Absolutely. Some people have real struggles. I played baseball. I thought I was going to be great, and I wasn't."


On a Saturday evening, Mark and John meet their dad, Pat, at Southwell's Hamburger Grill. Neon green lights line the joint with a large American flag hanging over the water jug and condiments. Old photos are scattered across the wall as top-40 pop plays in the background. In a booth across the restaurant from the Appels sits a kid wearing a blue Astros cap and an orange Altuve shirsey, one that could have easily read "Appel" a few years before.

As he chews his bacon cheeseburger, Mark beings to ponder his plans for March through October, time he's never had off before.

"I can go to weddings now. I can spend time with my family. I can look for an internship. Literally nothing is on my radar because nothing has ever been on my radar for life things, entertainment things, because I knew what I was doing," Mark says. "It didn't matter what other people were doing."

"It's a little weird to have control over your own life, isn't it?" Pat asks Mark.

"Yeah." Mark says.

After dinner, Mark drives his white Ford F-150 to a local bar to watch the Boston Celtics-Golden State Warriors game with John. As he zips down the Katy Freeway, past a large sign reading "We [Heart] Houston Astros," he talks about the future and the past, the expectations never meeting reality. The Phillies sent him their spring training welcome packet a few weeks back, before he talked with the team about his intention of taking a break from baseball. He hasn't ruled out coming back one day, but that's a decision for down the road, and a day that may never come. He loves the possibilities of travel, the prospect of going back to school and the idea that he can go around the country and watch his friends play baseball. He loves his reality.

"Sometimes you wonder what would what happen if one thing changed, how different your life would be," Appel says. "It makes me realize there's great intention [in] everything that's gotten you to where you are. But sometimes, you end up exactly where you're supposed to be." 

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World Series MVP George Springer: ‘We Made a Beer Funnel out of [the Trophy]’

George Springer personifies the Astros' success in so many ways. As a first-round draft pick and highly lauded prospect, he's one of the many stars who've emerged from Houston and general manager Jeff Luhnow's rebuilding efforts. In the last month of the postseason, Springer fought through a tough slump to emerge as not only a World Series champion, but the World Series MVP.

With baseball season over and the World Series trophy in-hand, Springer found himself on a platform that extended to a world of opportunities, from Saturday Night Live to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.

On a recent visit to the Bleacher Report offices in New York, Springer sat down to talk about how his life has changed since winning the World Series, his love of Jon Snow, his passion for reggae music and the intense FIFA competitions in the Astros clubhouse.

George Springer: So, one of the guys almost dropped the World Series trophy during the parade.

      

Bleacher Report: Wait, what happened?

GS: The truck just stopped suddenly, the guy hit the brakes and he fell over the edge. We had to grab. We were like, "You drop this s--t, you're going to be in big trouble."

      

B/R: So what was your reaction?

GS: I laughed at him. But it's all good now.

        

B/R: What was the wildest thing you've seen someone do with the trophy?

GS: We made a beer funnel out of it. I watched the guys holding it up, and they poured the champagne on it and they just started to drink it.

      

B/R: What has been the most memorable thing that you've done since everything that happened?

GS: SNL was pretty wild. I met both the Bushes, which was cool. The craziest day was when we went Houston, Disney, Disney to Saturday Night Live, Saturday Night Live back to Houston, had to be at the stadium the next day to do Sports Illustrated and then I had to be at the Texans game to be with this bad boy [Springer points to the trophy]. That was the craziest 26 hours.

    

B/R: Have you taken a moment to take it all in?

GS: It's been crazy. It's hard to believe that you've played in the World Series, and then it's hard to believe you've won the World Series. On top of the World Series MVP, it's the first one in the organization's history. It makes it even sweeter.

     

B/R: And you guys are the original "Trust the Process" team.

GS: And the process worked. We got what the fans deserved.

      

B/R: You were a big part of that rebuilding process. Were you aware of the team's grand vision back then?

GS: Back in 2013, 2014, we saw what could potentially happen. … A lot of things had to happen, but there are guys who have been there the whole time. [Dallas] Keuchel, [Jose] Altuve, Marwin [Gonzalez]. Those were the guys who went through the 100-loss seasons. I went through a few down years, but the organization has come so far, it's been insane.

       

B/R: You're not really on social media. Why is that?

GS: I'm not a big technology guy. I like my privacy and being as normal as I can. I'm not an internet guy. I just don't care for it. I made a Facebook in high school and I couldn't even tell you the password to it. I couldn't even guess the password or email. I haven't been on it in four or five years. I don't like being attached to my phone. That's how I am. I'm an old-school guy. I listen to old-school music. I'm one of the only guys now when I walk out of the door, I say goodbye to my fiancee and I won't talk to her until I get home. It's how we are. It's an old-school relationship. It's not behind a phone screen.

        

B/R: So what old-school music?

GS: Depends on the day. Sometimes I go Gap Band, S.O.S. Band, or stuff from the '90s. Boyz II Men. Keith Sweat. Bell Biv Devoe. I like Drake, I like stuff like that. Future. Paul Wall. Travis Scott. I really only listen to that if I'm in the clubhouse. Otherwise, I'm a big reggae guy. That's how I am—a slow, relaxed guy. I always listened to it. I like the vibe and message. I like the feel and I stick to it.

           

B/R: What reggae do you listen to?

GS: I'm a big J Boog fan. Rebelution. Tribal Seeds. I'm a big Bob Marley fan. Landon McNamara.

      

B/R: Who's been the most unexpected person to reach out to you?

GS: I got a letter from Willie Mays. It was congratulating me on the MVP and our team, and that's one of my favorite players. That was a surreal thing to get, to get a letter from one of the best players in the game. That was absolutely crazy, and that was the first MVP trophy named after him.

         

B/R: You mention you liked playing FIFA and NHL. Are those your favorite games?

GS: I don't play FIFA as much because all of the guys from Venezuela and Cuba are way better at it than I am. I just stick to NHL. Big Call of Duty [guy]. I love the old-school style of game. Modern Warfare, World War II.

          

B/R: I assume there's a lot of competition in the clubhouse. What is that like?

GS: There's been money lost, controllers broken, friendships destroyed for 20 minutes, but after that, it's all good.

         

B/R: Who's the best FIFA player?

GS: It's a tie between Keuchel and [Yuli] Gurriel or Marwin and [Carlos] Correa. It's a four-way tie.

      

B/R: Keuchel is not someone I would've expected in that group!

GS: Keuchel gets really into it. He's a big screamer. He gets mad and then doesn't care. Gurriel, Marwin and Correa, they all just play FIFA all day at the field. Altuve tries to play FIFA. I just get beat so I don't try anymore.

        

B/R: Any hobbies off the field?

GS: I am about as relaxed a guy as it gets. I like sitting on my couch, watching shows, sitting by the fire pit. I like to play golf, but I don't have a chance to play it often. Playstation. Xbox, but I'm about as boring a guy as you'll ever meet. I could sit on this couch from the time the day starts to the time the day ends.

        

B/R: What shows do you watch?

GS: I'm watching this show Mindhunter. I just finished Ozarks.

          

B/R: Did you finish Stranger Things?

GS: No. I got...this is going to sound really bad. I got six or seven episodes in and just stopped watching it. I don't know why! Honestly, one day, we were watching it and I found Mindhunter, and I was like, "Do you want to watch this one?" We started watching and I haven't gone back. We're about to finish Bates Motel. Probably every show on Netflix…

         

B/R: ...Except for Stranger Things?

GS: Except for Stranger Things! [Laughs.] I haven't finished it yet. I plan on it at some point. I just started watching The Long Road Home. I assume we've all seen Thrones.

        

B/R: I've only seen Season 1. I don't watch it, really.

GS: What? What? You haven't seen Game of Thrones? Why not?

      

B/R: I've seen up to Ned Stark getting beheaded.

GS: You need to help yourself and watch Thrones. It's the best show ever. I don't even know how to explain this why you need to watch it. You just need to watch it. There's so much stuff that happens and twists and things. Things you don't see coming. You try to figure it out and then something crazier happens.

        

B/R: Who are your favorite characters?

GS: Big Jon Snow fan. Khaleesi is a badass 'cause she's got the dragons. The ice king is really cool. I like him. I don't really have a favorite, but I'm rooting for Jon Snow.

        

B/R: What about Jon Snow connects with you?

GS: I just like him. I want him to do good. The whole show makes him out to be this outcast and this guy nobody wants or likes. Suddenly, everyone wants his respect and attention and then he tries to do what's best for his family. I like it. I just want him to dominate everyone.

         

B/R: You're someone who's clearly confident on the field. What was the point where you felt most vulnerable?

GS: This year, I went through a tough stretch and I felt like things weren't going my way. I couldn't get anything right, and I was letting the game beat me. I was not able to separate off-field from on-field. I took home an on-field performance one time. I remember being upset at the house, and it's just a game. I was at a point where I'm letting a game dictate how I'm acting around my fiancee, and I couldn't let that happen. No matter what happens, it's a game, and I was able to switch around after that.

        

B/R: What's the biggest thing you've learned about yourself in the last few months?

GS: I can push through a lot of things, whether that's failure or success. I don't know how to explain it. I've learned how to overcome things that get thrown at you. In this game, nothing's for certain, just like life. You have to roll with the punches. If you get knocked down, you need to stand up.

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Astros’ Alex Bregman on SNL, College with Odell, Alex Cora & BP in Off-Whites

Alex Bregman’s heroics are going to be all over the Astros World Series DVD.

Capping off a memorable rookie season with two homers, several standout fielding plays and a Game 5 walk-off hit in the Fall Classic has all but cemented his place in Houston Astros digital collectibles history. The 23-year-old is now recognized far and wide for his starring role in the Astros' first-ever World Series victory, as well as for his subsequent appearance on SNL's Weekend Update with Leslie Jones.

On a recent visit to the Bleacher Report offices in New York, Bregman sat down to talk about how life has changed since winning the title, his burgeoning sneaker fandom, being neighbors with Odell Beckham Jr. in college, his experience with new Red Sox manager Alex Cora and setting his sights on winning back-to-back titles with the Astros.

 

Bleacher Report: You, George Springer and Jose Altuve had the opportunity to make an appearance on Saturday Night Live. What was that experience like for you guys?

Alex Bregman: It definitely was really cool. To see all of the behind-the-scenes things that go into making SNL go was really cool. We had a great cast that was there with Miley [Cyrus] and Larry David. Met the producer of SNL, Lorne Michaels. It was a really cool day. A super special day. I watched SNL all the time when I was younger. Even now. Then being on it? It was crazy.

 

B/R: What was it like to be up on that stage? Any stories from the night?

AB: We went up there with the first run-through of our lines, and we were like: "Oh, this is going to be easy. We each got one line." We completely messed it up and went out of turn the whole time. Altuve said his line before me, I said mine before Springer and it was a complete mess. We were like, "We've got to lock this in." All three of us ended up making up our own lines on the real show. We got a little nervous and we just went with it.

 

 

B/R: Were you more nervous than you were for the World Series?

AB: I was way more [nervous] during SNL than the World Series. Way more nervous. [Laughs]. It was super cool. We didn't know until eight hours before we caught the flight when they said, "Do you want to come do SNL?" and I was like, "When and where?"

 

B/R: Besides SNL, what has been the coolest part of this experience?

AB: This morning was pretty cool—going on Good Morning America with Robin Roberts. She's a legend. I think I was telling both of my friends that we sat courtside at the Knicks game. Little kids from New York City are like, "Bro, that's Alex Bregman," and I was like: "Whoa, how do they know that? How do they know who I am at all?" My friend was like: "Bro, you hit a walk-off in Game 5 of the World Series. That was one of the best games ever." I didn't realize that. It was crazy.

 

B/R: Who’s been the coolest person to reach out to you?

AB: It's a good friend of mine, but Holly Holm. She came out to Game 6 and we had dinner. Her husband was my high school baseball coach. She was like: "You're going to win it. Don't worry."

 

B/R: Alex Cora mentioned on Monday at his introductory press conference as manager for the Red Sox that you were like a little brother to him. What was your experience like with him as a bench coach?

AB: He impacted the team immediately when he came over. Just a special knowledge for the game that you don't get from most people. His knowledge of baseball is basically why he has such a good career. It's because he knows the ins and outs of the game. He picks up stuff that other people don't pick up. If I'm trying to steal a base, I need to find a cue because I'm not the fastest guy. Alex Cora will be like: "Watch his front foot. His front foot when he picks is closed off. When he goes to the plate, it's open. You know right there, on one one-thousand, two, he's going to the plate."

He picks up stuff that other people don't pick up. He picks up other pitchers tipping, that way we know the advantage of what's coming. He knows different situations. He's always thinking and always working. The thing that is going to make him the most successful is how hard he works. He shows up early and watches more video than anybody. He loves the game so much and has dedicated his life to it. He's going to be a great manager.

 

B/R: Was there any particular instance where Cora’s help stuck out to you?

AB: I'd say the first thing, well, I kinda had the yips in spring training. I couldn't throw. He got me to be able to throw again. We went down and looked at video. This is two days after meeting him. This is his first time being a bench coach, in the first two days, we sat down with the video and threw every day. He actually put a few of us in a group text and put, "94 wins" at the beginning of the year. He sent us a text every day after every single win. "93 wins. 92. 91." We ended up winning 112 this year.

 

B/R: And what happened when you guys got past 94 wins?

AB: He just said: "Hey, let's go. Let's keep winning. Keep winning. Keep winning. Keep winning." He was right. He was special. He was a big difference-maker in us winning the World Series.

 

B/R: Did you feel his impact at any point during the World Series?

AB: [Chris] Taylor hit me one, I caught it and went home. In the back of my head the entire time, I was remembering when Cora told me, "Hey, in the World Series and it's a closer game, let's get the out at home." He had a big impact on me.

 

B/R: And I assume you guys knew he was gone after the season? Especially after all of those jobs opened up.

AB: As soon as the Mets job came open, the Red Sox job, as soon as all of these jobs, we knew he was gone. We said: "Dude, congratulations. That's unbelievable. It's going to be fun beating you in the ALCS."

 

B/R: I saw you posted a photo of the Nike Off-White Air Max 90 on your Instagram. Are you a sneakers guy?

AB: Kind of. I'm getting into it a little bit.

 

B/R: That’s one of the rarest sneaker drops of the year. How’d you get a hold of them?

AB: Jeremy Guthrie, World Series champ, he's got a vault of like a million dollars' worth of shoes. Guthrie came when we went back home after Game 2: "I got some sneakers for you. I want a younger guy in the game to rock these." I was like, "Eh, I'm not really into sneakers," but then I opened the box and I was like, "I saw Odell have these on Instagram." Odell was my next door neighbor in college. I was like: "I'm gonna rock these. I'm gonna rock these."

 

B/R: I mean, Odell has turned into somewhat of a fashion icon now.

AB: Yeah he is. He's a legend. That one catch made him a legend. So I got those ones, and I was like, "I'm never wearing these ever." Then Guthrie was like: "One of the high-up guys at Nike wants you to wear them for [batting practice] tomorrow. Virgil Abloh would be pumped if you wore them during the World Series." I wore them for BP, got 'em a little bit dirty, and I was pissed. Then they told me they were gonna send me the Jay-Z Rocafella sneakers before they were released. So I got those at the end of the World Series.

 

 

B/R: You made some hype in the sneaker community for wearing them during BP.

AB: Oh really? I didn't know that. [Laughs.]

 

B/R: So Odell was your neighbor in college. What was that like?

AB: The thing with Odell is that he's a great dude. Jarvis [Landry] too. I just laughed watching them dance. [Instagram comedian] Dancing Dan is always with them. Every time we went out when we were in college, we would watch them dance and go after it. It was pretty funny. Jarvis and Odell would play catch with my little brother. Now, I'm like, "Wow, you played catch with two of the best receivers in the NFL."

 

B/R: Was there any big plan for you guys when Carlos Correa proposed to his fiancee?

AB: He was like, "Hey, I think I'm gonna propose after Game 6 if we win." That was the night we got into L.A. And then we lost. He was like, "I'm proposing tomorrow when we win." So we win. He proposes, and then my mom's calling me every day saying that I'm in the background of Correa's proposal. She's going crazy acting like it was me proposing. My dad's like: "What's going on here? We just won the World Series. What are we doing?" It was hilarious.

 

B/R: How did he tell you guys?

AB: He just told us: "We better win tonight. I'm trying to get two rings." Everyone was pumped. He's a great teammate, a great guy, and Daniella [Correa’s fiancee] is great too. We just hope we're invited to the wedding.

 

B/R: Beyond the games and actually winning the World Series, what has been your favorite part of the major league experience?

AB: After every big win, just being able to go home and still have that high from winning the game and be able to celebrate with friends and family. That was special. It's something you always want to do, to be able to celebrate the victories with your friends and family. Being able to do that was awesome. I think also just celebrating after we won the World Series, just seeing the joy on everyone's face, everyone rocking their Astros gear at the after-party. We are world champs. We are world champs until someone can take us down.

 

B/R: Now you just gotta go back-to-back.

AB: Like Drake said, "Back to Back." We're gonna Jordan '96-'97.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Astros’ Alex Bregman on SNL, College with Odell, Alex Cora & BP in Off-Whites

Alex Bregman’s heroics are going to be all over the Astros World Series DVD.

Capping off a memorable rookie season with two homers, several standout fielding plays and a Game 5 walk-off hit in the Fall Classic has all but cemented his place in Houston Astros digital collectibles history. The 23-year-old is now recognized far and wide for his starring role in the Astros' first-ever World Series victory, as well as for his subsequent appearance on SNL's Weekend Update with Leslie Jones.

On a recent visit to the Bleacher Report offices in New York, Bregman sat down to talk about how life has changed since winning the title, his burgeoning sneaker fandom, being neighbors with Odell Beckham Jr. in college, his experience with new Red Sox manager Alex Cora and setting his sights on winning back-to-back titles with the Astros.

 

Bleacher Report: You, George Springer and Jose Altuve had the opportunity to make an appearance on Saturday Night Live. What was that experience like for you guys?

Alex Bregman: It definitely was really cool. To see all of the behind-the-scenes things that go into making SNL go was really cool. We had a great cast that was there with Miley [Cyrus] and Larry David. Met the producer of SNL, Lorne Michaels. It was a really cool day. A super special day. I watched SNL all the time when I was younger. Even now. Then being on it? It was crazy.

 

B/R: What was it like to be up on that stage? Any stories from the night?

AB: We went up there with the first run-through of our lines, and we were like: "Oh, this is going to be easy. We each got one line." We completely messed it up and went out of turn the whole time. Altuve said his line before me, I said mine before Springer and it was a complete mess. We were like, "We've got to lock this in." All three of us ended up making up our own lines on the real show. We got a little nervous and we just went with it.

 

 

B/R: Were you more nervous than you were for the World Series?

AB: I was way more [nervous] during SNL than the World Series. Way more nervous. [Laughs]. It was super cool. We didn't know until eight hours before we caught the flight when they said, "Do you want to come do SNL?" and I was like, "When and where?"

 

B/R: Besides SNL, what has been the coolest part of this experience?

AB: This morning was pretty cool—going on Good Morning America with Robin Roberts. She's a legend. I think I was telling both of my friends that we sat courtside at the Knicks game. Little kids from New York City are like, "Bro, that's Alex Bregman," and I was like: "Whoa, how do they know that? How do they know who I am at all?" My friend was like: "Bro, you hit a walk-off in Game 5 of the World Series. That was one of the best games ever." I didn't realize that. It was crazy.

 

B/R: Who’s been the coolest person to reach out to you?

AB: It's a good friend of mine, but Holly Holm. She came out to Game 6 and we had dinner. Her husband was my high school baseball coach. She was like: "You're going to win it. Don't worry."

 

B/R: Alex Cora mentioned on Monday at his introductory press conference as manager for the Red Sox that you were like a little brother to him. What was your experience like with him as a bench coach?

AB: He impacted the team immediately when he came over. Just a special knowledge for the game that you don't get from most people. His knowledge of baseball is basically why he has such a good career. It's because he knows the ins and outs of the game. He picks up stuff that other people don't pick up. If I'm trying to steal a base, I need to find a cue because I'm not the fastest guy. Alex Cora will be like: "Watch his front foot. His front foot when he picks is closed off. When he goes to the plate, it's open. You know right there, on one one-thousand, two, he's going to the plate."

He picks up stuff that other people don't pick up. He picks up other pitchers tipping, that way we know the advantage of what's coming. He knows different situations. He's always thinking and always working. The thing that is going to make him the most successful is how hard he works. He shows up early and watches more video than anybody. He loves the game so much and has dedicated his life to it. He's going to be a great manager.

 

B/R: Was there any particular instance where Cora’s help stuck out to you?

AB: I'd say the first thing, well, I kinda had the yips in spring training. I couldn't throw. He got me to be able to throw again. We went down and looked at video. This is two days after meeting him. This is his first time being a bench coach, in the first two days, we sat down with the video and threw every day. He actually put a few of us in a group text and put, "94 wins" at the beginning of the year. He sent us a text every day after every single win. "93 wins. 92. 91." We ended up winning 112 this year.

 

B/R: And what happened when you guys got past 94 wins?

AB: He just said: "Hey, let's go. Let's keep winning. Keep winning. Keep winning. Keep winning." He was right. He was special. He was a big difference-maker in us winning the World Series.

 

B/R: Did you feel his impact at any point during the World Series?

AB: [Chris] Taylor hit me one, I caught it and went home. In the back of my head the entire time, I was remembering when Cora told me, "Hey, in the World Series and it's a closer game, let's get the out at home." He had a big impact on me.

 

B/R: And I assume you guys knew he was gone after the season? Especially after all of those jobs opened up.

AB: As soon as the Mets job came open, the Red Sox job, as soon as all of these jobs, we knew he was gone. We said: "Dude, congratulations. That's unbelievable. It's going to be fun beating you in the ALCS."

 

B/R: I saw you posted a photo of the Nike Off-White Air Max 90 on your Instagram. Are you a sneakers guy?

AB: Kind of. I'm getting into it a little bit.

 

B/R: That’s one of the rarest sneaker drops of the year. How’d you get a hold of them?

AB: Jeremy Guthrie, World Series champ, he's got a vault of like a million dollars' worth of shoes. Guthrie came when we went back home after Game 2: "I got some sneakers for you. I want a younger guy in the game to rock these." I was like, "Eh, I'm not really into sneakers," but then I opened the box and I was like, "I saw Odell have these on Instagram." Odell was my next door neighbor in college. I was like: "I'm gonna rock these. I'm gonna rock these."

 

B/R: I mean, Odell has turned into somewhat of a fashion icon now.

AB: Yeah he is. He's a legend. That one catch made him a legend. So I got those ones, and I was like, "I'm never wearing these ever." Then Guthrie was like: "One of the high-up guys at Nike wants you to wear them for [batting practice] tomorrow. Virgil Abloh would be pumped if you wore them during the World Series." I wore them for BP, got 'em a little bit dirty, and I was pissed. Then they told me they were gonna send me the Jay-Z Rocafella sneakers before they were released. So I got those at the end of the World Series.

 

 

B/R: You made some hype in the sneaker community for wearing them during BP.

AB: Oh really? I didn't know that. [Laughs.]

 

B/R: So Odell was your neighbor in college. What was that like?

AB: The thing with Odell is that he's a great dude. Jarvis [Landry] too. I just laughed watching them dance. [Instagram comedian] Dancing Dan is always with them. Every time we went out when we were in college, we would watch them dance and go after it. It was pretty funny. Jarvis and Odell would play catch with my little brother. Now, I'm like, "Wow, you played catch with two of the best receivers in the NFL."

 

B/R: Was there any big plan for you guys when Carlos Correa proposed to his fiancee?

AB: He was like, "Hey, I think I'm gonna propose after Game 6 if we win." That was the night we got into L.A. And then we lost. He was like, "I'm proposing tomorrow when we win." So we win. He proposes, and then my mom's calling me every day saying that I'm in the background of Correa's proposal. She's going crazy acting like it was me proposing. My dad's like: "What's going on here? We just won the World Series. What are we doing?" It was hilarious.

 

B/R: How did he tell you guys?

AB: He just told us: "We better win tonight. I'm trying to get two rings." Everyone was pumped. He's a great teammate, a great guy, and Daniella [Correa’s fiancee] is great too. We just hope we're invited to the wedding.

 

B/R: Beyond the games and actually winning the World Series, what has been your favorite part of the major league experience?

AB: After every big win, just being able to go home and still have that high from winning the game and be able to celebrate with friends and family. That was special. It's something you always want to do, to be able to celebrate the victories with your friends and family. Being able to do that was awesome. I think also just celebrating after we won the World Series, just seeing the joy on everyone's face, everyone rocking their Astros gear at the after-party. We are world champs. We are world champs until someone can take us down.

 

B/R: Now you just gotta go back-to-back.

AB: Like Drake said, "Back to Back." We're gonna Jordan '96-'97.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Astros’ Alex Bregman on SNL, College with Odell, Alex Cora & BP in Off-Whites

Alex Bregman’s heroics are going to be all over the Astros World Series DVD.

Capping off a memorable rookie season with two homers, several standout fielding plays and a Game 5 walk-off hit in the Fall Classic has all but cemented his place in Houston Astros digital collectibles history. The 23-year-old is now recognized far and wide for his starring role in the Astros' first-ever World Series victory, as well as for his subsequent appearance on SNL's Weekend Update with Leslie Jones.

On a recent visit to the Bleacher Report offices in New York, Bregman sat down to talk about how life has changed since winning the title, his burgeoning sneaker fandom, being neighbors with Odell Beckham Jr. in college, his experience with new Red Sox manager Alex Cora and setting his sights on winning back-to-back titles with the Astros.

 

Bleacher Report: You, George Springer and Jose Altuve had the opportunity to make an appearance on Saturday Night Live. What was that experience like for you guys?

Alex Bregman: It definitely was really cool. To see all of the behind-the-scenes things that go into making SNL go was really cool. We had a great cast that was there with Miley [Cyrus] and Larry David. Met the producer of SNL, Lorne Michaels. It was a really cool day. A super special day. I watched SNL all the time when I was younger. Even now. Then being on it? It was crazy.

 

B/R: What was it like to be up on that stage? Any stories from the night?

AB: We went up there with the first run-through of our lines, and we were like: "Oh, this is going to be easy. We each got one line." We completely messed it up and went out of turn the whole time. Altuve said his line before me, I said mine before Springer and it was a complete mess. We were like, "We've got to lock this in." All three of us ended up making up our own lines on the real show. We got a little nervous and we just went with it.

 

 

B/R: Were you more nervous than you were for the World Series?

AB: I was way more [nervous] during SNL than the World Series. Way more nervous. [Laughs]. It was super cool. We didn't know until eight hours before we caught the flight when they said, "Do you want to come do SNL?" and I was like, "When and where?"

 

B/R: Besides SNL, what has been the coolest part of this experience?

AB: This morning was pretty cool—going on Good Morning America with Robin Roberts. She's a legend. I think I was telling both of my friends that we sat courtside at the Knicks game. Little kids from New York City are like, "Bro, that's Alex Bregman," and I was like: "Whoa, how do they know that? How do they know who I am at all?" My friend was like: "Bro, you hit a walk-off in Game 5 of the World Series. That was one of the best games ever." I didn't realize that. It was crazy.

 

B/R: Who’s been the coolest person to reach out to you?

AB: It's a good friend of mine, but Holly Holm. She came out to Game 6 and we had dinner. Her husband was my high school baseball coach. She was like: "You're going to win it. Don't worry."

 

B/R: Alex Cora mentioned on Monday at his introductory press conference as manager for the Red Sox that you were like a little brother to him. What was your experience like with him as a bench coach?

AB: He impacted the team immediately when he came over. Just a special knowledge for the game that you don't get from most people. His knowledge of baseball is basically why he has such a good career. It's because he knows the ins and outs of the game. He picks up stuff that other people don't pick up. If I'm trying to steal a base, I need to find a cue because I'm not the fastest guy. Alex Cora will be like: "Watch his front foot. His front foot when he picks is closed off. When he goes to the plate, it's open. You know right there, on one one-thousand, two, he's going to the plate."

He picks up stuff that other people don't pick up. He picks up other pitchers tipping, that way we know the advantage of what's coming. He knows different situations. He's always thinking and always working. The thing that is going to make him the most successful is how hard he works. He shows up early and watches more video than anybody. He loves the game so much and has dedicated his life to it. He's going to be a great manager.

 

B/R: Was there any particular instance where Cora’s help stuck out to you?

AB: I'd say the first thing, well, I kinda had the yips in spring training. I couldn't throw. He got me to be able to throw again. We went down and looked at video. This is two days after meeting him. This is his first time being a bench coach, in the first two days, we sat down with the video and threw every day. He actually put a few of us in a group text and put, "94 wins" at the beginning of the year. He sent us a text every day after every single win. "93 wins. 92. 91." We ended up winning 112 this year.

 

B/R: And what happened when you guys got past 94 wins?

AB: He just said: "Hey, let's go. Let's keep winning. Keep winning. Keep winning. Keep winning." He was right. He was special. He was a big difference-maker in us winning the World Series.

 

B/R: Did you feel his impact at any point during the World Series?

AB: [Chris] Taylor hit me one, I caught it and went home. In the back of my head the entire time, I was remembering when Cora told me, "Hey, in the World Series and it's a closer game, let's get the out at home." He had a big impact on me.

 

B/R: And I assume you guys knew he was gone after the season? Especially after all of those jobs opened up.

AB: As soon as the Mets job came open, the Red Sox job, as soon as all of these jobs, we knew he was gone. We said: "Dude, congratulations. That's unbelievable. It's going to be fun beating you in the ALCS."

 

B/R: I saw you posted a photo of the Nike Off-White Air Max 90 on your Instagram. Are you a sneakers guy?

AB: Kind of. I'm getting into it a little bit.

 

B/R: That’s one of the rarest sneaker drops of the year. How’d you get a hold of them?

AB: Jeremy Guthrie, World Series champ, he's got a vault of like a million dollars' worth of shoes. Guthrie came when we went back home after Game 2: "I got some sneakers for you. I want a younger guy in the game to rock these." I was like, "Eh, I'm not really into sneakers," but then I opened the box and I was like, "I saw Odell have these on Instagram." Odell was my next door neighbor in college. I was like: "I'm gonna rock these. I'm gonna rock these."

 

B/R: I mean, Odell has turned into somewhat of a fashion icon now.

AB: Yeah he is. He's a legend. That one catch made him a legend. So I got those ones, and I was like, "I'm never wearing these ever." Then Guthrie was like: "One of the high-up guys at Nike wants you to wear them for [batting practice] tomorrow. Virgil Abloh would be pumped if you wore them during the World Series." I wore them for BP, got 'em a little bit dirty, and I was pissed. Then they told me they were gonna send me the Jay-Z Rocafella sneakers before they were released. So I got those at the end of the World Series.

 

 

B/R: You made some hype in the sneaker community for wearing them during BP.

AB: Oh really? I didn't know that. [Laughs.]

 

B/R: So Odell was your neighbor in college. What was that like?

AB: The thing with Odell is that he's a great dude. Jarvis [Landry] too. I just laughed watching them dance. [Instagram comedian] Dancing Dan is always with them. Every time we went out when we were in college, we would watch them dance and go after it. It was pretty funny. Jarvis and Odell would play catch with my little brother. Now, I'm like, "Wow, you played catch with two of the best receivers in the NFL."

 

B/R: Was there any big plan for you guys when Carlos Correa proposed to his fiancee?

AB: He was like, "Hey, I think I'm gonna propose after Game 6 if we win." That was the night we got into L.A. And then we lost. He was like, "I'm proposing tomorrow when we win." So we win. He proposes, and then my mom's calling me every day saying that I'm in the background of Correa's proposal. She's going crazy acting like it was me proposing. My dad's like: "What's going on here? We just won the World Series. What are we doing?" It was hilarious.

 

B/R: How did he tell you guys?

AB: He just told us: "We better win tonight. I'm trying to get two rings." Everyone was pumped. He's a great teammate, a great guy, and Daniella [Correa’s fiancee] is great too. We just hope we're invited to the wedding.

 

B/R: Beyond the games and actually winning the World Series, what has been your favorite part of the major league experience?

AB: After every big win, just being able to go home and still have that high from winning the game and be able to celebrate with friends and family. That was special. It's something you always want to do, to be able to celebrate the victories with your friends and family. Being able to do that was awesome. I think also just celebrating after we won the World Series, just seeing the joy on everyone's face, everyone rocking their Astros gear at the after-party. We are world champs. We are world champs until someone can take us down.

 

B/R: Now you just gotta go back-to-back.

AB: Like Drake said, "Back to Back." We're gonna Jordan '96-'97.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Ryan Westmoreland and the Brain Surgery That Sidelined ‘Left-Handed Mike Trout’

The telemarketers won't stop calling.

Ryan Westmoreland swears this isn’t normal. Spring is the slow season at In the Zone Baseball Club, and his dad, Ron, owns the batting cage. Ryan gives lessons on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. The phone usually doesn't ring this much, but for whatever reason, this Monday in September is the day these telemarketers chose to flood the office with calls. It's a change in days that often blur together, Ryan notes. He springs toward the phone every time it rings.

"Hello, this is Ryan," he says before hanging up the phone without another word.

Westmoreland sits behind the counter organizing the cage's schedule as his dog, Pedey (named after Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia), falls asleep amid a scattering of tennis balls. He spends a lot of his time here now, splitting half the profits with his dad. The air conditioner purrs in the otherwise quiet facility. The walls are painted Fenway green, with a tarp draped over the far north wall decorated as the Green Monster.

There's a lot of time to kill, especially when the New England weather still permits players to train outside. Sometimes, Westmoreland stares at the jerseys that hang over the Pop-A-Shot in the waiting area. There are three of them. One is a Red Sox jersey, facing forward—his favorite team growing up in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. The team that believed in his potential as an 18-year-old. The second is an American League Single-A All-Star jersey, from 2009, a reminder of the greatness that once landed him at No. 21 on Baseball America's list of top prospects just one season into his pro career. The third is a second Red Sox jersey, turned backward. His name and the number 25 are on the back, the future superstardom that never came.

 

"It's nice to look at sometimes," Westmoreland says.

He stares at an Excel spreadsheet for much of the day. It's organized by age group, teams and lesson instructor. Above two used Fenway Park seats (given to him as a gift by the Red Sox), between two of his Lowell Spinners jerseys, lies a small, rounded, brown wood frame with a quote from Jason McLeod, the former Red Sox scouting director who pushed the team to select Westmoreland in 2008 and who now works for the defending world champion Chicago Cubs.

"Ryan Westmoreland was the most talented player I've ever drafted," the quote reads. "He would have been Boston's lefthanded Mike Trout. A New England kid. It was a great story. He was a racehorse, 6-foot-3, strong, and as fast as can be. Raw power. Great defender. He could have been Boston's center fielder for 15 years."


He still dreams about that first home run in pro baseball. Sometimes, Westmoreland will be in bed, and as his eyes close, he'll be right back at LeLacheur Park as the Spinners public address announcer calls his name. He's watched the YouTube video so many times that it's become imprinted in his 27-year-old mind. It had been a long time since his last home run, 15 games into the start of his professional career in 2009. He was anxious to get it out of the way.

The first pitch from Tri-City ValleyCats pitcher Justin Harper was a slider up and away.

He still remembers his thought process clearly. He's going to throw a fastball in so he doesn't fall behind in the count, Westmoreland thought.

"I knew it was coming," Westmoreland says.

It came, and he smoked it. The pitch went soaring over the right-field wall. There was a sense of relief, that things were finally going the way they were supposed to. As he rounded the bases, Westmoreland heard his mom. You can hear it in the YouTube clip too. It's the high-pitched shriek Westmoreland still hears in his sleep. He's greeted by his teammates.

He gets lost in that memory, sometimes.


"Can you bring up the video on YouTube?" Westmoreland asks. "I want to make sure I remembered it correctly."

As the clip plays on an iPhone, Ryan stares intensely. Sometimes, he says, he'll see his players crowd around and watch it together. Many of them are too young to know his resume, that he agreed to a $2 million signing bonus to forgo a scholarship at Vanderbilt. How Boston buzzed about having a local star to man center field for the next decade.

In 60 games in 2009, his first season in pro ball with the Lowell Spinners, Westmoreland hit .296/.401/.484 with seven homers, 35 RBI and 19 stolen bases. His professional debut threw a mountain of coal into the hype train. At 19, he was already the Red Sox's best prospect, on the fast track to success, and one scout went as far as to compare him to Mickey Mantle.

But Westmoreland realized something was wrong at spring training, the start of his second professional season. He was playing Call of Duty on his Xbox when he felt his thumb grow numb. He wrote it off as nothing. He was a professional athlete in very good shape. He was the hometown kid whose dreams of hitting walk-off homers at Fenway Park grew more tangible by the day. It didn't hit him that this was different from a strained hamstring or torn labrum until the next day.

While stretching on the field, he felt his entire right side go numb, like it had fallen asleep. Team doctors told him to get an MRI immediately.

Doctors pointed at the big golf ball-sized blob on the scan: a cavernous malformation, they told him, a life-threatening congenital irregularity that made him susceptible to brain bleeding. If left untreated, he could've been blinded, paralyzed or killed. He decided immediately to have the surgery, March 16, 2010, a date now tattooed on his right bicep.

"I'll be fine," Westmoreland said to himself. "I've already come back from injuries before."

On the iPhone screen, Harper throws the first pitch. He'd remembered correctly, Westmoreland notes. Slider up and away, and then fastball inside for the homer. He hears his mom's shriek, making sure to point it out. The clip ends as Westmoreland is walking back to the dugout, high-fiving teammates. I turn toward him, and a single tear drips down his left cheek. That side of his face became partially paralyzed after the surgery, and his eye involuntarily wells up multiple times a day as a result. The image is no less striking.


Normal things became hard after the surgery. Tying shoes took nearly two minutes. He could no longer touch a stove because the numbness in his hand could leave his hand toasted without his feeling a thing. He struggled to walk. Balance was the real issue, especially with his right foot. Westmoreland limps today. When his right foot touches the ground, he doesn't feel the weight of the floor under his feet, making each step a balancing attack and a hobble.

The second surgery turned things for the worse. He'd fought all the way back the first time. He was hitting pitches in the cage again. Things were looking bright again, like Westmoreland could fulfill the potential that everyone knew he had. He even played in a Red Sox Dominican instructional league game in December 2011. But two years after the first surgery, in July 2012, doctors found a second cavernous malformation, bleeding. He needed a second surgery.

He woke up from the anesthesia deaf in his right ear, blind in his left eye. He knew he needed to retire, and he did officially in March 2013.

"I can't play anymore," Westmoreland told himself. "I can't try to do this anymore."

After the second surgery, he shut himself off from the rest of the world. For two months, he sat in his parents' basement eating chips and candy. He passed the days with TV, therapy and sleep. He fell in love with the show Friday Night Lights, and his favorite character became Jason Street, the paraplegic former quarterback whose in-game spine injury took away a scholarship at Notre Dame and a chance for a football career. He refused to turn on a baseball game, even his beloved Red Sox. Seeing then-Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, an abject disaster in Boston, wear his No. 25 infuriated him.

"I really didn't want to be like, 'That could be me,' or 'I'm better than him,'" Westmoreland says.

Everything he'd been working toward for years disappeared. He was 22 years old, and the future everyone told him he'd have was already gone. He'd ask himself questions: Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this? He thought about endings things himself.

"Part of me just wanted to be done with it," Westmoreland says. "I didn't think I could handle it anymore, and I really didn't think I could."


He's patient with his players. At one point, one of the high schoolers Westmoreland coaches gets off balance and hits a ball off the end of the bat, way out in front of the soft-toss pitch. From behind the net, Westmoreland whispers something to the batter and tests his balance. He tosses another pitch, and THWACK, the ball zips to the opposite end of the cage.

He slowly brought himself back to the game. Three months after shutting out the world, he began to drift back. Things started to change when he saw his friends make the majors. First came guys like Will Middlebrooks and Daniel Nava. And then Jackie Bradley, Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts. Westmoreland wanted to support his old teammates, so he flipped on NESN to see his friends' successes.

"I loved the Red Sox, and I love those guys," Westmoreland says. "I couldn't not watch them."

A year and a half after the surgery, he decided he wanted to coach and began to work at In the Zone. He set sights on a career in the front office, something he doesn't feel quite ready to pursue. Maybe five or so more years, Westmoreland says.

"There's a part of the front office that needs a guy who knows baseball, who isn't maybe, obviously, as smart as the Harvard, Cornell, Yale, Dartmouth guys, but has a different side of knowing how players are doing and feeling," Westmoreland says. "The front office should always have a spot that is dedicated for someone who has played and knows the game."

In June 2015, Westmoreland returned to Fenway with his dad as an honored guest of the Red Sox. In front of a sold-out crowd, Westmoreland had the opportunity to throw out the first pitch. Instead, he opted to have his dad throw it out because he didn't feel comfortable. But as the pitch zipped past home plate and the Boston crowd roared, Westmoreland couldn't help but take it all in.

"I had always wanted that in a different instance, like jogging out to center field," Westmoreland says. "It wasn't that, but to be there, and get the ovation I got with the players that knew me, it was really exciting. They all knew who I was. They knew my story."


The one thing the surgery never took away was his swing. Doctors told him his swing was so ingrained in his muscle memory that any physical limitations—walking, tying his shoes—didn't extend to the plate. It's still a thing of beauty. Quick, powerful and fluid.

On this Saturday, Westmoreland takes some swings off the tee. He does this from time to time, sometimes facing the pitching machine, maxing out at 80 mph. The parents and students in the cage stop what they're doing and watch Westmoreland swing. Even four years after retirement, Westmoreland catches everyone's eye.

He still dreams about what his pro baseball career could've been. All the time. He watches the Red Sox on TV, sees Jackie and Mookie on the field and thinks, "Well, that could be me." He knows there's nothing he could do to change things. He lives a regular life now, living with his girlfriend and taking classes while working at the cage. He gets MRIs every six months to check up on himself. He loves coaching the kids too, getting excited every time his players get a scholarship offer. He appreciates everything the surgery gave him, the new outlook he received on life.

"It's easy to look back and go, 'God, that sucked. That was just the worst,'" Westmoreland says. "I obviously lived through it. Maybe if I had not gone through it, I don't have as good of appreciation for the little things that a lot of people take for granted. Right now, everything I think about how hard used to be with me, tying my shoes and how that used to take 10 minutes. Maybe if I had not gone through it and been in the big leagues for 10 years, I would not have had as great an appreciation for those things."

 

He thinks he would've been good. Real good, and a lot of people do. He could hit to all fields. He could hit balls on the outer half of the plate. At the old In the Zone location in Fall River, Westmoreland's uniform hung in a mural next to other Red Sox legends. Josh Beckett. Jerry Remy. David Ortiz. Carl Yastrzemski. Two years ago, when the Westmorelands opened the new location of the batting cage, the mural didn't make the trip.

Doctors told him the paralysis in his face and the numbness on his right side could disappear one day, but Westmoreland isn't counting on it. At this point, any positive developments are just icing on top. 

Westmoreland wraps up on the tee, and we pick up the balls together. It still feels good, that sensation, the crack of the bat hitting a baseball. He can still hit 80 mph off the pitching machine, but he usually limits himself to the tee. As we lug the bucket out of the cage, a player's father who's been watching the swings comes up to Westmoreland. 

"Ryan, it looks like you could still crank one over the center field wall at Fenway," he says. 

Westmoreland laughs. He turns around and responds. 

"And then I woke up." 

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