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Bill Plaschke

No Type Casting

David Newhan's success, once problematic, is now a joy to his sportswriter dad

August 10, 2004|Bill Plaschke

Bill -- I thought I'd put this on paper and then we can talk about it.... I have become increasingly concerned about the risk and perception of a conflict of interest ...

Just like always, the old baseball writer got right to the point.

For more than three decades, Ross Newhan had used words to cut to the soul of the national pastime, baring its flaws, burnishing its stars, celebrating its truths.

Now, in the fall of 1996, he was aiming those words at himself.

When David was drafted by Detroit out of community college a few years ago, I spoke briefly to you about the potential for conflict

In a single-spaced memo to Bill Dwyre, his boss at The Times, the old baseball writer was writing about his boy.

David Newhan, a clay-stained little infielder, was playing in Class-A Modesto. He seemed destined to move up the system. In a couple of years, he might be in the major leagues.

It was what they'd both envisioned during all those nights playing catch in the side yard of their Yorba Linda home, all those spring days hanging out with the Angels in Palm Springs.

Son on the major league field. Father in a major league press box. Believed to be the first such combination in modern baseball history.

But now that it was becoming a reality, the old baseball writer had to be honest.

How could this work?

What if the father criticized a player who would then confront the son? What if the father criticized an umpire who would exact revenge on the son?

Worst of all, what if some team would not give his son a chance for fear that inviting David Newhan into a clubhouse sanctum would be like inviting in The Times? What if teams feared that no pregame speeches or postgame pillow talk would be safe?

The old baseball writer figured that every parent had two jobs.

To do one right, he had to give up the other one.

Several years before his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, in a move that probably would have removed him from the ballot, Ross Newhan was offering to quit his life's work for his son.

I have not been able to stop thinking about the potential problems.... I never want to compromise my work here, and never have.... But is blood thicker?

Thicker than the Sunday paper, blood is.

Tonight in Anaheim, after a decade of struggle, David New- han will take the field as the Baltimore Orioles' leading hitter, and one of the hottest players in baseball.

The Times will be in the press box, chronicling every move of a career fueled by sacrifice.

Ross Newhan? He'll be sitting in the stands, weaving a new story with a shorter, more majestic byline:

Dad.

*

Of all the noise generated at Dodger Stadium this summer, one of the loudest moments originated from someone who wasn't even watching the game.

It was June 18, the Dodgers were playing the New York Yankees, Ross Newhan was in his usual press box seat, fashioning one of his columns, when he couldn't resist.

David had just been signed and brought to the big leagues by the Orioles. That night they were playing in Colorado. The play by play of that game, as usual, was being instantaneously documented on the Internet.

Ross momentarily ignored the Dodgers in front of him, tapped on his laptop, and clicked to the site ... and, oh, what a sight.

David Newhan pinch-hitting.

Ball in play.

Home run.

No cheering in the press box? Right.

"I hear this scream that could best be described as Howard Dean in Iowa," said Bill Shaikin, The Times' staffer sitting next to Newhan. "I looked over, and it was Ross. I thought he was yelling at the office. I thought he was yelling at me. I didn't know what happened."

When Shaikin leaned back and glanced at Ross' computer screen, he knew. Soon, all the writers and broadcasters knew, and the familiar murmur had nothing to do with the game they were covering.

It is the Southern California baseball writing fraternity's dirty little secret.

When Ross' boy goes deep, we cheer like heck in the press box.

"That's not really like me," said Ross, wincing during a recent interview at his home. "But that home run signified so much about the distance that David had come back. Everything was sort of tied up in that home run."

It was David's first major league plate appearance after three years and two shoulder surgeries. It began one of the most remarkable 30-day spans by anybody in baseball this season, during which he hit .476 with five homers and 23 runs batted in.

David did more in those four weeks than he had done in his previous nine pro seasons, as he began his season with three major league homers and nine RBIs.

"I'm having a blast, just trying to be the best player I can be," David, 30, said in a phone interview. "All I've ever done is go as hard as I can. That's all I'm doing now."

Yeah, just another hardheaded Newhan.

While the father was covering 150 Angel and Dodger games a year for 25 years -- the hardest, most thankless work in this business -- his son was drawing pyramids, connecting three words in magic marker on his mirror:

"Determination. Desire. Dedication."

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