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The journey to being a teacher of baseball

05/11/2015, 8:00am CDT
By Marlee Hein

Al Newman may have lost his “avodah” if his friend had not encouraged him to go ... (cont. reading)

                Al Newman may have lost his “avodah” if his friend had not encouraged him to go to baseball tryouts decades ago.  At 10 years old, Newman had made his first team without a glove and with little prior baseball experience.

            Avodah, a Greek word meaning, as Newman puts it, “Your work is your worship, what you enjoy doing brings you life.”  

            Newman is a teacher of baseball.  The two-time World Series winner, former Twins infielder, who has more than 40 years of playing and teaching experience at both the major league and youth levels, is now fulfilling his dream of being a teacher, which is his avodah.

            Newman was the first born to Shirley and Albert Newman on June 30, 1960 in Kansas City, Missouri.  As a kid, Newman liked playing basketball.  He didn’t own a glove and his only experience playing baseball was on the playground.  Nonetheless, his friend convinced him to try out for the baseball team, and a week later they received the results.
            “So I made the team, but I had to go play for another [younger] team.  We didn’t win one game,” Newman said laughing. 

            Little did Newman know that this last-place team was the start to his lifelong baseball journey.  His family moved from Missouri to California where he attended Ontario High School.  Newman was a three-sport athlete who played football, basketball and baseball.  After graduating, Newman enrolled at San Diego State University to study accounting and education.  He began playing second base in college, whereas in high school he played mainly third base and short stop.

            Newman accepted a first round draft pick to the Montreal Expos in 1981, during his junior year.  He had turned down three previous offers from the California Angels, Texas Rangers, and New York Mets. 

            “I felt more prepared to go,” Newman said referring to his education, “I was starting to be labeled as the guy that didn’t want to play.  I never thought about playing [professional] baseball.”

            Baseball was never his end-goal.  Newman found enjoyment in the game, but wanted to be a school teacher.  He decided to accept the offer from the Expos motivating himself to succeed by making a promise.

            “I told myself that I was only going to give it two to three years.  If I didn’t make it, I was going to be a teacher or an accountant,” Newman said.

After four years in the minor leagues, Newman made his first debut with the Expos in 1985.  He played alongside greats like Andres Galarraga, Tim Raines, Tim Wallach and Mitch Webster from 1985 to 1987.  Newman struggled as a rookie to find belonging, confidence in his playing, and “to develop some type of arrogance.”

            “You have to believe that you belong initially, that was the toughest part, you look across the diamond at the other players and your teammates, and they’ve got credentials that say they’re a good player,” Newman said referring to the four all-stars on the Expos, “You’re watching these guys, and they make it look so easy … and you’re scared to death to play.”

            Newman was traded to the Twins in 1987, that same year they won the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.  The Twins won the World Series again in 1991 over the Atlanta Braves.  During the 1991 games, Newman made two plate appearances, one was a triple and the other a RBI.

            “Those were the magical years,” Newman said pausing, “That time is just so memory sown.”

            Newman ended his eight-season career with the Texas Rangers in 1992.  He had only one home run and had the third-most at-bats of any player in the league.  He hit .226 and had 156 RBI.   

            Since ending his professional career, Newman has found his avodah as a teacher of baseball.  He takes pride in the fact that he not only played, but has coached the Twins minor and major leagues.  Newman was the bench coach for the Salt Lake City Buzz in 1998, managed the Gulf Coast League from 1999 to 2001, and accepted the position as the Twins third base coach in 2002 coaching until 2005. 

            “It was a career full of knowledge, learning from other players and executives,” Newman said reflecting on coaching players such as Torii Hunter, David Ortiz, Corey Koskie and Justin Morneau.

            Newman has moved on in recent years from coaching professionals to youth players.  He has part-time coached the Blizzard Elite Baseball team for the last five years.

             Adam Barta, owner of the Blizzard Elite, said, “[Newman’s] passion for baseball exudes through his personality.”

            Barta called Newman an “old school guy,” who teaches players to play hard and respect the game.   He said Newman physically symbolizes the importance of every player on a team to the Blizzard athletes.  Newman was a utility player, Barta explained, he didn’t start, but was still a successful big leaguer that played his role on the team.           

            “Newmie turns what is hard about baseball into a drive in these kids,” Barta said explaining his coaching style, “Sometimes you can’t control what happens in a game, but you can control how to react.”

            Newman cares, Barta said.  The Blizzard program goes on an annual bonding trip staying in a cabin with almost 100 staff and players.  Barta recalled a specific morning when he found Newman in the gym with 40 to 50 players.

            “He sat down and was telling baseball stories to these two kids, and then these two kids became ten kids, and as kids woke up they sat down almost like they were listening to this Mosiah talking about baseball,” Barta said then laughed.

            Blizzard alumni and University of Minnesota pitcher, Matthew Fiedler, said he tried to absorb as much information from Newman as possible.  Fiedler met Newman when he started playing for the Blizzard program at 15 years old.

            “For starters, he’s hilarious,” Fiedler said, “He genuinely cares about the players he works with and wants to see them succeed.”

            Newman’s avodah is to help every baseball player to improve.  That was also the original inspiration behind Newmie Rewards LLC.  He announced the business in 2008 with co-founder Sara Fischer.  Their mission is to make sports affordable to allow all athletes to participate in camps and programs with adequate equipment. 

            “We’re still small, we’re not out to save the world,” Fischer said, “We both really have a heart for kids, we just want to help [teams] through fundraising.”

            The foundation is based on an individual basis.  Newman will ask coaches if any of their players need help, or he will notice his own Blizzard member with overused, old equipment.

            “That way you’re not embarrassing the kid,” Newman said, he’ll ask, “’Hey, what size shoe do you wear?’ … He’ll know who they came from and if he wants to come say thank you, that’s fine.”

            Fischer and Newman met in 2006 while she was working for the E. J. Henderson Foundation and clicked over their shared desire to help kids and fundraise.  Fischer said she first noticed Newman’s “bubbly personality,” and over time has observed how he’s a people-person.

            “I think one thing that will surprise people is how he relates to so many people of so many walks of life,” she said, “He just loves people and meeting them, they flock to him.”

            Fischer recalled a speaking tour about four years ago at four different locations.  Each event was a different age group, they ranged from elementary students to college baseball players.

            “He was sitting on the floor with all these kids, they had no clue who he was, and he was reading Dr. Seuss, and the kids just loved it,” Fischer said, “Then we were at a college in South Dakota, it was a fall benefit for the college team and it was really packed.”

            When Fischer and Newman first started Newmie Rewards, they put together a diagram of different sources of fundraising.  One of those sources was radio shows.  Every Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon on Sports Radio TheTicket Newman is on air with Pete Waggoner and Gene Larkin talking about sports, coaching and the foundation.

            “All those things that we had as our mission, we’re doing, just not on a grand scale,” Newman said, “I’m not getting rich doing it, but it sustains a living,” and for him that’s just enough.

            Three decades after deferring graduating and becoming a teacher, he’s returned to it.  He’s found his avodah as a teacher of baseball.  Newman is continuing to coach the Blizzard Elite and will be a special instructor for the St. Paul Saints this summer.    

Although his journey back to education has taken half a lifetime, he wouldn’t change anything.  Newman’s only wish is to be taller, 3 to 4 inches exactly, and to be remembered as a “fun loving guy, who enjoys sharing smiles with other people.”       

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