Ninety-nine games into his big-league baseball career, David Newhan is a phenomenon. He's got a batting average of .295 with eight home runs, 35 runs batted in, 48 runs scored—and what seems like a nightly highlight on SportsCenter. It's the kind of start that fresh-faced rookies dream about.
But Newhan is no rookie, and his face is . . . well, it's 13 years less fresh than when he graduated from Anaheim's Esperanza High School in 1991. It only seems like longer. Newhan's phenomenal 99-game big-league career has taken him a painstaking five years to assemble, not counting a lifetime of preparation before that. Only lately has it all added up to a story of overnight success.
"It's definitely been a unique journey," says Newhan, trying to summarize because his trip has been so long and strange—and because he is calling from the Baltimore Orioles' clubhouse, where he only has an hour or so to prepare for big-league-career game No. 100. He's in the starting lineup again, like almost every day since the team signed him in June after he missed nearly two full seasons because of a severe shoulder injury. Newhan marked his return to the majors with a booming home run and for nearly two months has been one of the game's hottest players. "I've persevered," he says, summarizing again, "and the results have been . . . well . . . interesting."
Also . . . well . . . inspiring. Little pieces of poetry are littered all over the path Newhan is walking—and baseball treasures lyricism, meditation and affirmation more than any other American game. If Abner Doubleday hadn't invented it, Stuart Smalley would have.
So it is that we can consider Newhan at age 30, look back at what he's overcome since his senior year at Esperanza High—when a batting average of .421 for one of the best teams in the country didn't earn him an offer from the pros or even a major-college scholarship—and wring significance from the fact that esperanza is Spanish for hope.
Newhan is the latest—and a very direct—descendent of this lyric heritage. His father, Ross Newhan, was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000 . . . as a writer. He has covered the game for the Long Beach Press-Telegram and Los Angeles Times for more than 40 years, a connection that allowed 10-year-old David to be a batboy during Angels exhibition games in Palm Springs.
David makes the requisite good-copy jokes—"I had to overcome a sportswriter's genes," he likes to say—but he doesn't deny he benefited in the same ways as the many sons of players who have followed their fathers to the big leagues.
"From the first time I was in a major-league clubhouse, I knew that was what I wanted to do," he says. "No one gets a free pass to the big leagues, but I think that exposure to what it really means to be a major leaguer—seeing how guys handle themselves—puts you way ahead of the curve in terms of the evolution of your maturity."
Of course, it also adds a layer of pressure, and the attention Newhan has received for his remarkable return to the major leagues . . . well, has anybody ever interviewed him without mentioning his father?
"No," he says.
Yet Newhan obviously reveres his special link in the chain of baseball tradition.
"On the field, my relationship with my dad doesn't affect me either way," he says. "But in the bigger picture, the stuff that is really important, I am very aware of it. My father has been part of baseball for a long time, from his relationship with his own father to the amazing career he has had. He's my dad; I'm proud of him—I love our shared connection with baseball. It is part of our story."
DAVID NEWHAN PLAYS FOR THE BALTIMORE ORIOLES AGAINST THE ANAHEIM ANGELS AT ANAHEIM STADIUM, 2000 GENE AUTRY WAY, ANAHEIM, (714) 634-2000; ANGELSBASEBALL.COM. TUES.-WED., 7:05 P.M.; THURS., AUG. 12, 1:05 P.M. $12-$27.