Ryan Freel has died of an apparent suicide, according to Jacksonville Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Shannon Hartley. Freel was best known for his time with the Cincinnati Reds; he spent six seasons with the team before retiring in 2009.
"The Reds family is deeply saddened to hear of the death of Ryan Freel," the team said in a statement to MLB.com. "His teammates and our fans loved him for how hard he played the game, and he loved giving back to the community. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends."
Some wondered if Freel suffered from mental illness after a strange interview with the Union-Tribune San Diego in 2006.
"Everybody thinks I'm talking to myself, so I tell 'em I'm talking to Farney. He's a little guy who lives in my head who talks to me and I talk to him. That little midget in my head said, 'That was a great catch, Ryan.' I said, 'Hey, Farney, I don't know if that was you who really caught that ball, but that was pretty good if it was.'"
Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun noted that Freel likely suffered "as many as 10 concussions" while playing baseball. Those hits could have contributed to mental struggle and instability. After taking a hit during his final season with the Reds, Freel was sent to a rehab facility but "was prohibited from playing because he failed cognitive tests."
He was then traded to the Cubs and finally to the Kansas City Royals, where he was cut within one month. Freel ended up playing just a few games with the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League. It was a hard way to wind down a successful, and memorable career, with the Reds.
Fans and teammates have expressed their surprise and grief at the loss of their 36-year-old friend.
"RIP Ryan Freel! Great teammate, great guy, n loved his family! Such a sad day today with his passing! Awful news! Prayers are with his family," Sean Casey tweeted.
Freel is survived by wife Christine and three daughters.