Coaches were always good at giving David Newhan professional advice. "You're smart," a college coach once told him. "Why don't you become a teacher?"
Others suggested a job in physical fitness or a career as a writer. Once, a coach offered to write Newhan a letter of recommendation, so long as he used it for a job that required a college degree.
"David, you could make it big at just about anything," his high school coach once told him. "Anything except baseball."
That Newhan is batting .485 for the Baltimore Orioles strikes his former coaches as miraculous. Their jobs required them to believe in Newhan, sure. But they never really did. He threw too wildly to play in high school, ran too slow to play in college and stood too short -- way too short -- to get anywhere near the pros.
Every man who's coached Newhan expected the scrawny, 5-foot-10 kid to give up on his baseball dream and pursue something else. That he never did, coaches say, is a testament to a lifelong devotion: Newhan decided he'd become a big league ballplayer, no matter how many people told him otherwise.
"I've always believed I'm a major leaguer," said Newhan, 30, who was signed by the Orioles on June 19. "That's what kept me going through doubts and injuries and anything else. I know I belong here, even if nobody else does."
In the last two weeks, he's won a clubhouse-full of believers. Starting at third base for the injured Melvin Mora, Newhan has hit safely in all 10 games he's played for the Orioles. During that time, he's hit three home runs, stolen four bases and amassed 10 RBI.
He looks awkward at times in the field, but he'd never played much third base until this year. He prefers second base or the outfield. "He can do just about anything," Baltimore Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "So he's found a nice place with us."
But even now that he's made it, Newhan still seems somehow out of place. When he walked into the Baltimore locker room for his first game, teammate Miguel Tejada -- who played Class A with Newhan in the mid-1990s -- said: "Hey, I never expected to see you here."
After Newhan bombed a 450-foot homer in his debut against Colorado, Mora surveyed his unimposing new teammate and thought, "How can he hit it like that?"
"He's just so small looking," Mora said, "that I didn't really expect much from him."
Many have made the same mistake, dating back to Mike Curran in 1989. Curran, the coach at Esperanza High School in Anaheim, Calif.,took one look at Newhan -- the gimpy run, the skinny throwing arm -- and told him to find a different sport. Newhan spent two summers in the batting cage, made the team and hit better than .500 his senior year -- only to hear scouts tell him he didn't qualify as a major prospect.
Division II schools Cal State Los Angeles and Chapman University offered Newhan scholarships, and Curran told him to pick one.
"No way," Newhan responded. "I'm a Division I player."
"I thought he was a little bit crazy," Curran said. "I thought he was headed nowhere."
Instead, he was headed to Cypress College, a community college with a one-year baseball program in Cypress, Calif. There, Newhan spent 20 hours a week in the weight room to develop his upper body and 10 hours a week on the track to improve his speed.
Newhan compensated for his genes -- he's the son of Los Angeles Times baseball columnist Ross Newhan, an admitted athletic maladroit -- with hard work. He turned himself into the ultimate baseball player, chewing tobacco and speaking in cliches.
"He had a vision of what he wanted to be," said Cypress Coach Scott Pickler. "In all my years, I've never seen someone so determined. I didn't really think he had the talent, but he sure had the drive."
Newhan left Cypress with a scholarship to baseball power Georgia Tech, but coaches continued to doubt him. He only got drafted by the Detroit Tigers, his agent Tony Attanasio said, to be a filler player. He only made it to the Los Angeles Dodgers' Class AAA team in Las Vegas, Curran said, because the team needed warm bodies.
Newhan finally worked his way into the major leagues with the San Diego Padres in 1999, but he floundered and hit .140 in 30-plus games. When he made it back to the big leagues with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2001, he injured his shoulder trying to field a ball in batting practice.
When the Orioles found him, Newhan was stuck in with the Texas Rangers' Class AAA team in Oklahoma. "I was beat up by the game," Newhan said. "It had gotten to me pretty bad." He had a 72-hour window in his contract that made him a free agent for any major league team, and as soon as the window opened, the Orioles called.
"I was pretty shocked," Newhan said. "But this is the opportunity I've worked for."
"His dad told me he'd made the Orioles, and I really did a double take," Curran said. "I mean, David Newhan back in the big leagues? I never would have believed it."
Orioles Notes: The Orioles put right fielder Jay Gibbons on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left hip flexor, and purchased the contract of outfielder Chad Mottola from Class AAA Ottawa.
Gibbons has not been healthy most of this season and goes on the disabled list for a second time. He is batting .223; he hit .277 last season.
Mottola is batting .270 with seven homers and 29 RBI in AAA.