Great opportunity opens up for Freel
With few bench players this season, veteran will be valuable
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Everywhere he goes, Ryan Freel is an underdog. The super utility man has never really had a job earmarked for him, but he's still carved out a multiseason niche as a valuable reserve. Freel is hoping to continue that trend with the Orioles, with whom he'll be counted on to provide depth at several different positions.
Freel, a former 10th-round Draftee, progressed through Toronto's farm system without getting much of a shot to stick with the parent club, and it took a chance signing with Cincinnati for his career to take off. Freel spent six seasons with the Reds, culminating in his mid-December inclusion in the Ramon Hernandez trade.
The shock took some time to wear off, but Freel has finally come to grips with his new assignment.
"I'm thrilled to death," Freel said. "At first, you feel like you lose a piece of your family, but as time goes, [you realize] this is where I'm meant to be. I believe everything happens for a reason. I believe I'm in this situation for a reason. I had a couple people pulling for me, and it's always good to have someone in your corner. It's a fresh start."
Freel has reason to believe he has people in his corner. Wayne Krivsky, the former general manager of the Reds, is now employed by the Orioles as a special assistant to Andy MacPhail, Baltimore's president of baseball operations. And Dave Trembley, the team's manager, has gone out of his way to make Freel feel welcome.
"Trembley, I have a lot of respect for him," Freel said recently. "He called me three or four times this offseason, just holidays or whatever. That just shows you a lot about a manager. Being around the league for a little bit, it means a lot to a player. Being able to come here in spring and feel comfortable means a lot, because it helps your play, I think. I have a great deal of respect for him -- and MacPhail and Krivsky, too.
"But there's just something about Trembley. He kept calling me and saying, 'How are you doing? ... Don't call me back. I'm just checking in.' That, right there, is key to me. This is just a game, and your relationship with people is more important than anything."
|"Nothing's ever been handed to him. He comes in with the mentality that, 'I've got to come in and make the team.' That's just the way he is. He wants to play, so the more positions he can play, the more at-bats he can get."|
|-- Orioles special assistant Wayne Krivsky, on Ryan Freel|
And in one of those conversations, Trembley presented Freel with a new challenge. He told the veteran that the Orioles are considering carrying 13 pitchers, which would limit them to three players on the bench. In turn, that meant that Baltimore needs Freel to attempt playing shortstop -- a slot he's never played in the Major Leagues.
The fleet-footed infielder did play shortstop as a Minor Leaguer, but Freel admitted it would take some adjustments to play it again. And true to his resilient nature, Freel said he's willing to try if Trembley thinks it will help the team.
"I haven't played short in many years, but I know in practice, that's where I've always taken ground balls," Freel said. "If I'm not playing or I'm playing second, third or the outfield, I still take ground balls at short. It's not like I'm not really familiar with it. And since [Trembley] told me that, I've been taking ground balls at short every day. Sometimes, I'd come in the morning and come in the afternoon and keep taking them to get comfortable. I'm just trying to put myself in a good situation to be ready. That's all I can control. I'm excited about getting that opportunity."
Krivsky, who presided over two-plus seasons of Freel's Cincinnati tenure, is hardly surprised by that attitude. And although the Orioles are still a long way from deciding whether to carry a reserve who can play shortstop as his primary position, Krivsky knows that no matter what happens, Freel will not be outworked.
"Nothing's ever been handed to him," Krivsky said. "He comes in with the mentality that, 'I've got to come in and make the team.' That's just the way he is. He wants to play, so the more positions he can play, the more at-bats he can get."
Freel echoed that assertion and took it a step further, saying that he's fully prepared to fight for playing time. The veteran knows that Cesar Izturis will log most of the time at shortstop, and that he'll have to jostle with a highly similar player (Ty Wigginton) for any chance he gets, but it's not like he's never been through this before.
"I've been in a situation with Cincinnati where I never had a position," Freel said. "I'm not one bit worried about that, and no, I don't take any peeks at the computer to look at what this organization is doing. Every once in a while, I will, but all I can do is worry about what I can do. Whoever they bring in here and whoever they think is going to fill a spot in, that's nothing I can control. It's helped me through my years to not worry about that kind of stuff."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.