Christie Moore Freel lost count of the nights her husband, Ryan, arrived home from the ballpark with a tale that added to her growing concern over his health.

"I don't know how many times he would talk about sliding into second or third base and blacking out or seeing stars," she said Saturday in a telephone interview from her home in Jacksonville, Fla.

Freel, drafted by the Blue Jays in the 10th round in 1995, made his big league debut in April 2001, but saw action in just nine big league games with Toronto.

While his peers and fans praised Freel's headfirst approach throughout an eight-year career in the major leagues, which he deemed necessary to compensate for being undersize and less talented, the person closest to him became tormented by it.

"I cringed that that's who he was — all-out, full throttle," she said. "It was very hard to watch."

An accumulation of concussions, as well as mood swings and troubling incidents, left relatives — and Freel himself — apprehensive about his well-being.

Still, she was surprised to learn that Freel, 36, was found dead in his Jacksonville residence on Dec. 22. Authorities concluded that the cause was a self-inflicted shotgun wound.

"I know a lot of people say they weren't shocked by it, but I really was," said Freel, who had been divorced from Ryan Freel since April after 11 years of marriage, and had spoken to him briefly on the eve of his death. "I really thought, at some point, the answer to all of this would come along for him. It just never did."

Now his family will seek answers post-mortem.

A spate of suicides and diagnosed cases of dementia involving retired NFL players has prompted research to determine whether there is a correlation between constant blows to the head, which are endemic to football, and a degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy.