By: Joe Strupp
For any father whose son is trying to make it in the Major Leagues, hope and worry are a given. But for Ross Newhan, who has covered professional baseball since before his son, David, was born, it takes on an entirely different meaning. And with David, 33, now with the New York Mets in another twist in his career, the elder Newhan has plenty more to endure than most baseball dads.
“I take immense pride in his determination,” says Newhan, who turns 70 this month. “His tenacity is impressive.”
Newhan, who has covered baseball in Southern California since 1961 and still writes on a contract basis for the Los Angeles Times, has shown his own tenacity after more than 45 years in the press box. Starting as a Los Angeles Angels beat writer for the Long Beach Press-Telegram in 1961, he jumped to the Times in 1968 and has remained there ever since. A native of Long Beach, Newhan never finished college but spent decades on the beat before becoming a national baseball columnist. He was inducted into the writers/broadcasters wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.
David, he says, “shows a lot of respect for the game. He has heard me yell about drugs and steroids and the black side. I have heard him often enough complain about guys using supplements and that it made it tougher on the guys who didn’t cheat. I wasn’t concerned that he would get involved in it.”
David, who spoke by cell phone from the Mets spring training locker room in mid-March, calls their relationship “a kind of unique situation,” admitting, “I don’t go around advertising it.”
It was in 1973, when his only son was born, that Ross Newhan’s family life and career would collide. From the moment David could catch a baseball, his father exposed him to the Major League life starting with trips to spring training. “The Angels were training in Palm Springs for a lot of those early years, and the club was great about letting him work in the clubhouse and come by,” his father says. Newhan recalls his son playing with the likes of Aaron Boone and Tim DiCences, future major leaguers whose fathers played for the Angels, and adds, “I think the fact that he was exposed to the clubhouse and met people like Reggie Jackson and Rod Carew and saw them as something other than ballplayers had an impact on him.”
David agrees. “I was able to get around the game more,” he says. “But he never pushed me.”
Newhan says he rarely saw his son play as a youngster, since he was on the road covering games. “I was gone so much,” he recalls. “I didn’t have a feel for how good he was until his last year of high school.”
As a senior at Esperanza High School in Anaheim, David Newhan showed talent, but not enough to get a Division I scholarship or even a nibble during the Major League Baseball draft. He enrolled at a community college, and after a year it paid off, with a scholarship offer from Georgia Tech and the Detroit Tigers drafting him.
That was when Ross Newhan’s baseball background kicked in again for his son, helping to guide him. “We talked about it often — about focusing on school work, because it is a tough road in baseball,” the elder Newhan says. “We’d seen a lot of kids who appeared to have more talent than David drop by the wayside.”
One attractive aspect of Georgia Tech was its lineup, which included future Major League stars Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Varitek and Jay Payton, but the coach’s promise to make him a second baseman didn’t pan out. A year later, he transferred to Pepperdine University and was eventually drafted by the Oakland A’s.
Ross Newhan faced a dilemma: Was there a potential conflict of interest? He told the Times’ sports editor Bill Dwyre, “there may be, as David progresses, issues in stories that I may feel carry some conflict.” Dwyre told him to wait and see as it went along. “I don’t think it affected anything I did,” Newhan asserts.
That effort to avoid conflict became difficult when David reached the Major Leagues with the San Diego Padres in 1999. Working for a paper that covered the Dodgers, one of the Padres’ division rivals, Newhan found he had to avoid writing when the two teams played. “I just never wrote about that team,” he says, noting the same rules applied when his son was later on the Philadelphia Phillies and Baltimore Orioles. “There were some games I missed that I would have gone to.”
David says he never got a hard time from teammates after any of his father’s stories: “Most everyone felt he was fair.” He also never got the news bug, calling beat reporting “a lot of homework, a lot of cursing at the laptop.”
During his first two seasons, David played in only 56 games. After a shoulder injury in 2001, he missed most of that season and all of 2002. In 2003 and early 2004, he batted over .300 for two minor league teams, but never got a Major League call-up.
Then, in June 2004, the Baltimore Orioles signed him and sent him to Colorado for a game with the Rockies. He hit a pinch-hit home run during his first at-bat. Covering a game at Dodger Stadium that night, Ross Newhan followed the Rockies game on his computer. “I saw ‘Home Run’ on the computer screen and let out a big whoop,” Newhan recalls. “There was so much emotion after those two years he missed.”
That moment prompted Newhan’s only story about his son, a Father’s Day column days later that said David, “had again found a way to package perseverance, air-mail tenacity, deliver dedication.”
That was also Newhan’s last season as a full-time Times sportswriter. He is still contracted to write a dozen or so pieces for the paper each year and spent time at spring training this year — as David won a roster spot with the Mets, which was not a given.
“They have given him a promising opportunity,” the proud dad says of his son, who got a hit and scored a run on opening day this past Sunday. “He is in a good spot.”