- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- Ryan Westmoreland has visited Fenway Park many times as both a fan and a top prospect for the Boston Red Sox. The 19-year-old outfielder was back in Boston for Opening Night on Sunday as the Red Sox began their season against the New York Yankees.
Along with his parents, Westmoreland sat in the private luxury box of Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein and enjoyed watching the Sox beat the Yankees 9-7.
Westmoreland flew home from Arizona on Monday night after having brain surgery on March 16 to remove a cavernous malformation on his brain stem. He returned to Boston to continue his recovery at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.
Since the Portsmouth, R.I., native is back and continuing his rehab, the Red Sox asked Westmoreland's parents, Ron and Robin, if the family would be up or a visit to Fenway Park for Sunday's game.
"He can move OK to get in and out of cars and we knew we could transport him around," said Ron Westmoreland. "They were kind enough to invite us. It's special to have him here and he loves baseball."
Westmoreland was diagnosed with a cavernous malformation of the brain after experiencing headaches and numbness during spring training. He left the Sox's minor league camp on March 4 and was examined at Massachusetts General Hospital the next day. After consultations with three specialists, the decision was made to have the surgery, which was performed by Robert Spetzler in Arizona.
The family and the Red Sox have been very protective of information concerning Westmoreland's health and future. He's doing well, but there are still a lot of unknowns and the family doesn't want speculation to get out about his progress.
"We don't know, at this stage, what's going to happen," said Ron Westmoreland. "The surgeon said it perfectly when he came out of the operating room. He said, 'First thing is his life; second thing is quality of life and we'll deal with the rest after that.'
"Right now he's trying to get back to a point where he can live a normal life. If baseball is in the cards, it's a bonus. Right now we're just concentrating on quality of life."
Seeing Westmoreland at Fenway Park was not only inspirational for the Red Sox, it was a good sign of his progress.
"The upswings are positive," said Ron Westmoreland. "His spirits are great and that's what drives him."
Westmoreland, who was selected by the Red Sox in the fifth round (172nd overall) in the 2008 draft, sat in Epstein's box on Sunday night, wearing dark sunglasses, and was surrounded by family and members of the Sox's baseball operations staff.
"I can't say enough about the organization -- from top to bottom -- and ownership has been involved. The staff, the players, I really can't tell you how they have been. I'm proud to be a Red Sox fan for a lot of reasons, but knowing this side of it has been really special," said Ron Westmoreland.
Before, during and after the operation, the entire baseball world reached out to the Westmoreland family. Phone calls, text messages and e-mails poured in from everyone and everywhere. General managers from around the league sent their well wishes.
People would visit Westmoreland in the hospital, but there was one visitor in particular who spent more than an hour with Ryan -- former major league pitcher Randy Johnson.
"It was a genuine, inspirational one hour," said Ron Westmoreland. "He talked to Ryan about perseverance. It was special."
Adam Ethier, the brother of Los Angeles Dodgers star Andre Ethier, was one of Westmoreland's therapists in Arizona and one day during rehab, Adam gave Ryan a bat and ball. Ethier asked him to imagine he was standing in the batter's box, so Westmoreland stood in his left-handed hitting stance and the family took some pictures.
"You could just see it, we could just see that there was a breath of life into him. He was so excited to be back in that stance," Ron Westmoreland said during the seventh inning of Sunday's game. "That was exciting and to have him at a game like this, obviously it's a great game, but to get him out of the hospital for some fresh air and to be around the game is just great."
When it was time for Ryan Westmoreland to leave Arizona, the family wanted to find the best facility for Ryan to continue his rehab when they decided on Spaulding.
"Again, the Red Sox helped us find the best because we wanted the best," said Ron Westmoreland. "Neuro is a very specialized rehab and they're great over there. They're seeing progress and the doctors are great. We've been fortunate enough to have the kind of medical attention and rehabilitation attention and it's been good."
Other than taking pictures with a bat and ball in his hand or watching the Red Sox beat the Yankees on Opening Night, baseball is the least of Ryan Westmoreland's worries. As much as he would like to be playing professional baseball right now, there are more important things to be concerned with and there's no timetable for when he'll be able to return to baseball activities.
"Those are questions that not even the doctors can answer yet," said Ron Westmoreland. "They need to let the area they operated on heal. It's a pretty sensitive area they operated in and nobody really has any idea of a timeframe he can be back. The doctors told us to be patient because it takes a while. There's a natural healing that's taking place right now in his brain.
"We really have no idea and there's no rush," added Westmoreland. "It's difficult for him to be patient, but we have to be. We've heard it could be anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years. They just monitor him day by day and as time goes on we'll get more indications, but the fact that we're seeing progress in a lot of the areas that were affected by the malformation is a good sign."
The Westmorelands are literally taking it one day at a time.
"He's very determined. He's a strong kid," said Westmoreland. "I think his health and his age only helps him. It's amazing to watch him come out of therapy sweating. He's been working hard. I've been with him in therapy a couple of times and the therapist will say, 'Ryan, do you want to take a break?' and he'll say, 'No. No break.' He'll work as hard as he can for the time they have allotted to do whatever it is. He recognizes the progress that he makes."
Westmoreland recently asked his son how he was feeling, and the response the father received didn't surprise him.
"I'm going to be in Portland next year," Ryan said, referring to Boston's Double-A affiliate.
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.
Red Sox prospect Ryan Westmoreland recovering well from brain surgery.