Freel gives time to keep kids focused

Freel gives back time to keep kids on right path

CINCINNATI -- Less than 24 hours after making one of the greatest catches in the history of Great American Ball Park, Ryan Freel was at a local ballfield helping teach youngsters lessons in character and team building.

With the bruises still fresh from his sensational diving grab, which robbed Albert Pujols of a two-run double in the fifth inning of the Reds' 10-3 victory over the Cardinals, Freel spent Wednesday morning interacting with kids as part of the Reds Rookie Success League program.

"Whether we like it or not, ballplayers are role models," Freel said. "We have an influence on the kids. It's good to work with them and give them some instruction. It's very meaningful for me to devote my time to making an impact on someone's life for the better."

The Reds Rookie Success League is a non-competitive, coed, character-building summer baseball league targeting at-risk kids ages 8-11. A number of current and former Reds players have assisted with the program, including Ken Griffey Jr., Paul Wilson, Brandon Phillips, Billy Hatcher and manager Jerry Narron. Former Reds slugger George Foster serves as the league's commissioner.

Reds right-hander Bronson Arroyo joined Freel in helping the youngsters on Wednesday.

The support from Reds players during their current 10-game homestand has been outstanding according to Charley Frank, executive director of the Reds Community Fund.

"It's been an embarrassment of riches," Frank said. "We've had unbelievable support from the locker room all season, but especially in the past week and a half. Freel's been here five times. We don't even have to ask him anymore."

Freel went 3-for-4 on Tuesday with three runs scored to go along with his remarkable catch, helping the Reds pull to within 3 1/2 games of the first-place Cardinals in the National League Central.

Freel said that he still had some adrenaline pumping from last night's thrilling Reds win. Some lingering soreness resulting from the catch prevented him from getting a good night's sleep.

But none of that kept Freel from showing up at Schmidt Field -- a sports complex located just a couple of miles east of Great American Ball Park -- and doing his part for the community.

"It's therapeutic to come here," Freel said. "I get caught up in this baseball thing, maybe more than I should. It's good to know I can make a positive impact on kids' lives. It's an evil world out there. The more people you can impact in a positive way, the better."

Much like his approach to the game on the field, Freel grew up according to the school of hard knocks. The Reds Rookie Success League provides youngsters with an opportunity that Freel says he wasn't fortunate enough to have had himself.

"I learned the hard way," Freel said. "I've made some poor choices in life. I didn't have something like this growing up. I love kids. I have two kids myself. You want to do whatever you can to help them out."

The Rookie Success League meets twice weekly for six weeks. Each youngster receives quality baseball instruction from past and present Reds players as well as from volunteer coaches and mentors. The program emphasizes the "CI REDS" acronym, which stands for cooperation, integrity, respect, education, determination and spirit.

Freel says that the Reds Rookie Success League goes beyond just teaching the kids how to hit and throw.

"This is more than just coming out here and grabbing a glove and playing ball," he said. "The most important thing is about life. A lot of these kids aren't going to be baseball players. They may not be doctors or lawyers, either. Even if they are, they need to know how to stay focused in life and to do the right things."

Jeff Wallner is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.