- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- Boston Red Sox prospect Ryan Westmoreland stepped into the batter's box Thursday and faced live pitching for the first time since undergoing a life-threatening surgery on March 16, 2010 to remove a cavernous malformation on his brain stem.
The 21-year-old outfielder was scheduled for one at-bat during an instructional league game in the Dominican Republic, and maybe a couple more at-bats on Friday.
"He was really happy with how he felt and how he did. He's looking forward to tomorrow," Ryan's father, Ron Westmoreland, said.
Ryan Westmoreland didn't run the bases or play the field. If he made contact, he would run to first and that's it.
"Like this whole process, he's been taking it very slow and most of the work he's been doing has been hitting," said Ron Westmoreland. "If you saw him, he's in incredible shape. Physically, he looks as good as I've ever seen."
Ryan will return to Ft. Myers on Friday night and then head home to Portsmouth, R.I., for the holidays. Then it's back to Ft. Myers.
"It's exciting stuff and he's all fired up," Ron Westmoreland said. "The significance of the milestone is the fact that he's comfortable doing it, and the Sox are comfortable doing it."
Ryan Westmoreland has been taking regular batting practice and has participated in simulated games, but this will be the first time he'll face a pitcher throwing all different pitches.
"He says he's seeing the ball really well and he's comfortable," Ron Westmoreland said. "It's been a pretty emotional week. I say it's a small step, in the scope of where he was and where he needs to get to, but getting in the box against somebody throwing low- to mid-90s, and not knowing what's coming, he's just got to be beside himself happy just to compete again. He's a competitor and I know he's just competing his butt off."
It doesn't matter if Ryan Westmoreland drills a liner up the middle, goes deep, grounds out or goes down swinging; he'll be batting a thousand for the simple fact he's reached this point.
"We want to keep it in perspective," Ron Westmoreland said. "I know what a competitor he is, and all week I've had to tell him the result of the at-bats aren't as important as the fact that you're there, you're comfortable there, they're comfortable with you there and that's the significance of this milestone."
In the big picture, it may be a small step on a long road, but these are the things that keep Ryan Westmoreland driven toward the ultimate goal.
The surgery, while a success, created neurological deficits and affected his 6-foot-2, 220-pound athletic body. He had to re-learn simple, everyday tasks. His family and doctors were more concerned with his quality of life than a potential return to baseball.
Westmoreland used his love for the game as motivation, not only to live a normal life but also to excel on the field again.
Along with his baseball activities and weight-room routines, Westmoreland continues his occupational therapy on a daily basis.
"He's getting better and that's all we can ask," Ron Westmoreland said. "We don't know the end result, but as long as it's going forward, it's all good."
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.