FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- He has no home, he says, because each day he arrives at the ballpark he has no idea which glove to grab, what position to play or where in the lineup he will end up. To stay in the majors, though, David Newhan is willing to play just about anywhere. And he usually does.
Already this spring, Newhan has played left field, center field, second base and first base for the Baltimore Orioles. The team believes Newhan could be the starting center fielder if Luis Matos falters. Without a starting job, Newhan is willing to move around the field to play.
"It's something I always thought I could help a team doing," David Newhan says of his role as a utility player. "You need a guy that can do that."
(Carlos Barria -- Reuters)
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"I'm not going to be bashful, I want to be in the lineup," said Newhan, who was a pleasant surprise for the Orioles last season, batting .311 with eight home runs after being signed on the same day the Texas Rangers released him. "If it's not [in center field], then hopefully somewhere else. The season is long enough that guys need days off to keep them fresh. Hopefully I could help out doing that and get more at-bats."
Newhan was an infielder in high school and at Cypress Junior College. His coach at Cypress experimented by putting Newhan at first base, a position that seemed peculiar for such a slight player. Newhan is listed at 5 feet 10, although that is generous. To prepare him for first base, the coach asked Newhan to put on catcher's gear. Then the coach hit grounders at him. At first the balls pounded off the padding, but eventually Newhan became so adept at first base that he played the position for the entire year.
After a season at Cypress, then-Georgia Tech Coach Jim Morris, now at the University of Miami, recruited Newhan to play second base alongside star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra.
"The only reason he went was because he was promised second base," said his father, Ross Newhan, a longtime baseball writer in Southern California. "He felt he couldn't turn that down. Then he got there and the coach had lied to him about the position."
Newhan ended up playing first base at Georgia Tech. He transferred to Pepperdine University for the next season.
"I kind of left Georgia Tech because I was playing first," Newhan said. " I thought there was no way I was going to be drafted. They kind of brought me over and said I was going to play up the middle with Nomar. From day one of practice I went over and played first base."
Newhan played in left field mostly during his senior year at Pepperdine and was drafted as an outfielder by the Oakland A's in the 17th round of the 1995 draft. He was primarily considered an outfielder until his second pro season when then Class A Modesto manager Jim Colborn, now the Los Angeles Dodgers pitching coach, found himself in need of an infielder after the team's second baseman was injured. The night of the injury, Colborn walked outside to the team's parking lot and noticed a car with the license plate, "LV2TRN2." The next day Colborn asked the team which player had that particular license plate. Newhan raised his hand.
"Get your infield glove, you're going to be a second baseman," Colborn said.
He has never had a stable position since. Several years ago Newhan realized he likely wasn't going to be an everyday player. Newhan talked with his father on many occasions about how many players have carved out long careers as utilitymen. Ross Newhan had written about several players, such as Tony Phillips, who spent 18 productive years in the majors and never once in a full season played just one position. The son finally accepted his niche.
"It's something I always thought I could help a team doing," Newhan, 31, said. "When you have 25 guys, a limited bench carrying 12 pitchers, two catchers, you need a guy that can do that."
Newhan was arguably the Orioles' best player last season for a 30-day stretch in June and July when he hit .430 with five home runs. Baltimore Manager Lee Mazzilli said Newhan was a savior, playing 24 games in right field, 19 in left field, 17 at third base and two at first base. He also was designated hitter in 24 games. This year Newhan's role likely will be adjusted. Though he is not listed as a starter, Newhan likely will get near 400 at-bats playing several positions.
"A manager's dream is to have a guy you know is going to be ready to play and you don't have to worry about putting him in," Orioles outfield and third base coach Tom Trebelhorn said. "If something happens, it's not because he's not ready or he can't do it. It just happened that way. There's a few of those guys but not as many as there used to be. I think we've gone to power as a forte. Probably the type of player you're talking about isn't a power player. He's a utilitarian."