Gwynn revels in Newhan success

ORIOLES FOCUS

Baseball

A Look Inside

August 29, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

If there's one thing Tony Gwynn can appreciate about a ballplayer, it's hard work, and this is one reason he's tickled about David Newhan's success with the Orioles this season.

Gwynn was marching toward 3,141 career hits with the San Diego Padres in 1999, when Newhan arrived in the big leagues, eager to learn. Newhan would get to the ballpark hours before game time, thinking he was early, and Gwynn would already be coming back from the batting cage.

Once Gwynn started talking about hitting, Newhan soaked it all up like a sponge.

"It was awesome," Newhan said. "I'm glad for every moment I got to be around him. It made me that much of a better player, just having his experience, just trying to listen and do what he was saying and seeing how he handled himself."

The Padres traded Newhan to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2000, and the next year, he injured his throwing shoulder when he crashed into the wall while making a catch during batting practice. It took two surgeries, and almost two years of painstaking rehabilitation, before Newhan finally got healthy enough to play again.

He didn't get another chance at the big league level until he signed with the Orioles in mid-June. In the past 10 weeks, Newhan has established himself as a fixture in the lineup, batting .345 in 252 at-bats through Friday night.

"The thing you like about him is that he just didn't give up," said Gwynn, who did color commentary for ESPN on Wednesday's game between the Orioles and Oakland Athletics. "I'm happy for the kid. He worked hard to get to where he is."

After starting the season with Triple-A Oklahoma, in the Texas Rangers' system, Newhan has cemented a place in the Orioles' starting lineup, and executive vice president Jim Beattie said Newhan definitely will figure into the team's plans for next season.

The question is, how?

Newhan has started nine games in left field, nine games in right field, 15 games at third base, one game at first base and 26 as the designated hitter. Beattie said it's possible the Orioles will pick an everyday position for Newhan by next season, but for now, it remains to be seen.

"We'll go into free agency and see what we can get," Beattie said. "Then we'll look at how our pieces fit together."

Much like with Melvin Mora a year ago, Newhan's versatility allows the Orioles to remain flexible as they approach the market. They can keep him in this role as a utility player and designated hitter, or let him focus on one position.

Newhan said he's open to anything.

"It'd be nice to show up and be penciled in the same spot every day," he said. "But I like Baltimore, and I love my teammates, and I just want to play. Wherever that is, I'm happy doing that. Throughout my career, I've bounced around a lot, but I pretty much feel comfortable wherever I go."

Newhan's best position is still second base, but he's adept at first and third, and the Orioles seem to like him in the outfield. He's even been taking some fly balls in center field during batting practice, getting pointers from third base coach Tom Trebelhorn.

"[Newhan] runs well," Beattie said. "He's very athletic. I think having him out there [in the outfield] for a full season, or even spring training, we could probably get a better idea what his capabilities are."

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