While the prospect-laden Arizona Fall
League is filled with plenty of household names, one that doesn’t
especially reach out and grab you is Indians sidewinding righthander
as a nondrafted free agent by the Red Sox in 2004 out of Tufts (Mass.)
University, Newsom was the player to be named that Boston sent to the
Tribe to complete the Coco Crisp deal in 2006.
25-year-old pitched for four different clubs that season, finishing the
year with a championship ring at high Class A Kinston, where he also
was named MVP of the Mills Cup series.
began the 2007 season back with the K-Tribe, going 0-1, 1.50 in just 12
innings before being promoted to Double-A Akron. Newsom’s club again
made it to the postseason, but fell in the Eastern League championship
series to Trenton.
the Aeros, the Cincinnati native went 4-1, 3.12 in 49 innings, recorded
18 saves and rolled up ground balls at a 2.94 GO/FO rate. Much better
against righthanders, who batted just .208 against him in Double-A, the
Indians sent Newsom to Arizona to work on his approach against lefties.
Newsom is contributing a weekly diary to Baseball America, and this is
his tourth entry . . . as the righthander faces a ghost from his high school past in the form of Brewers’ infielder Steve Sollman:
Bases loaded. Two outs. It’s a make or break moment for any pitcher.
Greg Maddux gets the out nine out of ten times. That’s why he’ll be in Cooperstown. The average big leaguer gets the out seven or eight times out of ten. One key for me to making that next step is getting out of situations like these over and over again. No matter if I come into the jam from the bullpen or if, like this time, the situation was my own creation. As I take a deep breath, I already know who is coming up to the plate. It’s not the most dangerous hitter on the other team but it’s the one I wanted to face the least.
Every high school has one; the star athlete that plays three sports and excels at all of them. I was not that guy at my high school. I wasn’t a bad high school athlete; I was actually kind of good (probably closer to slightly above average) at three sports. But, at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati that meant I was a role player on the football team, I didn’t make the basketball team, and I was arguably the 5th or 6th best baseball player in my graduating class. However, we did have that one star that rose above the others. He was all-state in baseball, basketball, and football and was a really good teammate and friend to boot. And now, he was walking up to the plate in the Arizona Fall League.
It’s amazing the paths that people take to get from point A to point B. It’s almost never a straight line. Mine took me to Boston and an academic powerhouse that happened to have a good baseball program, albeit Division III. A guy I played with two years ago went through four different colleges in a four-year span before he found the right fit and turned into the player he should have been. I heard of another guy who didn’t even play baseball in high school but was discovered at a showcase he was persuaded to attend by a local scout who saw him throwing a football.
Now, in the dry Arizona heat, the two different paths from St. Xavier High School converged. Slider on the outside corner-strike one. Slider a little bit further outside-ball. Fastball down and in and crack. Two quick hops, the ball was hit harder then the last two ground balls that bounced perfectly for singles before it, but then a big sigh of relief. Our third baseman gloved it and tagged third base for out number three.
As I walked off the field I was glad to get out of the inning with no runs and five of six batters hitting ground balls. I had to smile though when I thought of the old teammate that came about two inches from ruining my week. Here we were, the only two left playing from a high school class that was once considered the top baseball class in the Midwest. That’s how it is in baseball, a lot of stars from little league, high school, and college competing for those precious few spots at the top of the food chain.
Baseball isn’t like most other sports. The maturation process of a baseball player is often slower then any other sport. Lebron was labeled can’t miss at 12. Sidney Crosby was dazzling juniors at 14. Ken Griffey Jr. was the rarest of exceptions when he broke into the big leagues at 19. It took David Ortiz five years in the big leagues before he found out how to become “Big Papi.” Baseball’s maturation process just takes longer. You don’t have to make your mark as early as other sports. That’s what gives players like me a chance. I wasn’t even in the argument for being the best player on my D-III college team until I was a 22-year-old senior. If I had to be picked out as pro player before the age of 20, I wouldn’t have stood a chance.
The best player from high school, the one everyone’s says can’t fail, often does. It’s not that the big fish got smaller. It’s the size of the pond that changes. Every team’s best players enter the pro pond and the game starts to change slightly, the breaking balls get tighter, the bat speed just a fraction better, and some great players end up left behind. The long road from little leagues to the big leagues claims numerous players by way of injury, circumstance, or mental atrophy, not to mention talent and desire. The ones that survive are the ones who can adapt the quickest. That’s a life lesson I will take away from baseball no matter when my career ends; those that adapt the quickest are usually the most successful.
The best of the best might always seem to rise (i.e. A-Rod, Chipper, Beckett) but there are some surprises too. Guys like Mike Piazza or my new favorite, Ehren Wasserman, allow players to hope and prove the draft is often a crapshoot. David Eckstein proves every day that production isn’t just a product of raw talent but a combination of skills, some of which can be learned.
That same long road which separates many also brings players together that in many other circumstances would never fit. High school and college teammates run into each other time and time again as the process goes on. The hope is that even while competing you both move forward. For me, I couldn’t wish anything more. My old high school teammate is still a great player. He can and will always be able to play the game. He runs well, can play great defense all over the field, and hits well enough that some major league team will need him somewhere down the road. However, I can’t help but hope that if I ever have to get Steve Sollman out again, that will mean that I’m in the big leagues too.
If you have any comments, questions or ideas to pass along to Randy, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.