Freel Excited To Join Patriots

Ryan Freel is coming to the Somerset Patriots.

Farney is not.

As first reported by good friend Ryan Dunleavy of The Courier News, the Patriots have agreed to terms with the 34-year-old outfielder, a long-time veteran of the major leagues.

Having played in 594 MLB games for the Blue Jays, Reds, Orioles, Cubs and Royals, Freel gained notoriety in 2006 when a story came out in The Dayton Daily News that he spoke to an imaginary friend in his head who he called Farney.

It does not appear he’ll be making the trip up north with Freel, who will be coming up from his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida to join the team when spring training starts on April 13th.

“That was from a reporter eavesdropping on us, and he heard something where I was making a smart-aleck comment to one of the guys,” Freel told me in a phone conversation.

“I played it off pretty good and he just ran it with and it got blown out of proportion.”

Something that unfortunately hasn’t been blown out of proportion lately is Freel’s on-field efforts.  He finished in the top-5 in the National League in stolen bases in 2002, 2004 and 2005 and is a career .268 hitter in the big leagues.  Known mostly for his time with the Cincinnati Reds, where he played for seven seasons, he wore six different uniforms in 2009 and played in four different organizations. 

Once regarded as a solid and exciting everyday outfielder in the big leagues, Freel has now joined a league he’d never even heard of until looking for a place to play this off-season.

“Out of all the years I’ve played, I was never really familiar with the league,” he said.

“Obviously, I’m a lot more familiar with it now.  From what I’ve heard, there’s a lot of good players in this league.”

Having just played in the big leagues last season, with the Orioles, Cubs and Royals, Freel’s name is still fresh in a lot of people’s minds, and he had thoughts that finding an affiliated job might not be as difficult as it ultimately ended up becoming.

“This really wasn’t my thinking going into being a free agent,” he told me.

“I was thinking things were going to be a little bit different, of course.  Being an athlete and a competitor, I think you always think you’re probably better than what you are.  But I didn’t see this coming, I didn’t think I’d be playing in independent ball at this point in my career.  I didn’t think my numbers were that bad.  I knew my health was the main issue, and I’m sure that’s what probably would make some teams leery of signing me.  But I don’t think I’m better than the independent leagues by any means.”

While health may be an issue with Freel — he’s suffered a few significant injuries over the past three seasons — versatility never has been.  Primarily an outfielder during his time in the big leagues, he also saw significant time at both second and third base…but that may not be where you see him when it comes time to put on a Patriots uniform.

“They’re going to play at shortstop here and there, and maybe the outfield as well,” Freel said.

“I think I’m going to be playing somewhere different all the time, hopefully that’s every day.  That’s what I’m hoping for.  I’m not coming out here to play one position for sure.  I definitely want to move around, that’s what we’ve talked about.  I definitely don’t want to lose that (versatility) label, if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have the years that I have in the big leagues right now.  I definitely want to keep that as part of my game.”

Not only is Freel one of the biggest names to sign in the Atlantic League this season, he’s also one of the biggest name players in the history of the Somerset Patriots.  Dunleavy pointed out that Freel brings the fifth-most amount of big league games in team history to Somerset, and that’s a fact that surely won’t escape the 30 MLB teams that, in essence, Freel will be playing for as well this season.

For Freel, however, there’s no timetable in his mind as far as when he’d like to be out of the league by.

“That’s a good question.  I’ve thought about it,” he said.

“Right now, I’m excited just to be up there and play.  I’ve got three little girls at home who are very young; six, four and 19 weeks old, so…baseball’s been very good to me.  I’ve done well, so it’s not about the financial part of it.  I just want to get back and play in the big leagues.  I’ll play for the minimum if that’s what it took, I don’t care.  I’ve thought about the timetable, but I’m just going to see what happens and let the man upstairs take control.  He hasn’t steered me wrong yet.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

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