Newman baseball legacy
Every April, when the Chicago White Sox finish spring training and leave Phoenix, Arizona, 6-year-old William Newman knows he has to say goodbye to his dad.
William’s father, Charlotte Knights assistant coach Ryan Newman, won’t be there for his eldest of two sons’ first day of school. He’ll miss William’s birthday.
For two months, Ryan’s communication with William revolves around FaceTime and phone calls. But when school ends, William and the rest of the family come to Charlotte, where father and son bond over baseball much as Ryan, 36, did with his dad.
Ryan’s childhood wasn’t much different from William’s. His father, Jeff, spent more than 20 seasons in the major leagues as a player, manager and coach. Now William, spending his summer in the Knights’ clubhouse and with his father, is the next Newman in the baseball family line.
Jeff was entering his fourth season with the Oakland Athletics in 1979 when Ryan was born. And with Ryan’s birth, Jeff endured his most successful season as a player.
“I tell him all of the time I was definitely good luck,” Ryan said. “I think he ended up hitting like 22 homers that year or something, made the all-star team. I always claim to be the good luck charm that year.”
Jeff spent five more seasons as a catcher and first baseman for the Athletics and the Boston Red Sox. He briefly served as an interim manager for Oakland in 1986, posting a 2-8 record before Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa assumed the position.
His father’s playing days and early managing career are a blur to Ryan, recollected in his parents’ stories and photographs. But Ryan vividly remembers Jeff’s time as the third-base coach for the Cleveland Indians from 1992-99 and bench coach for the Baltimore Orioles in 2000.
Ryan spent nearly his entire summers with his father’s teams, hanging around the ballpark and traveling on road trips.
“I’d go with my dad, just he and I on a road trip,” Ryan said. “I’d spend all day at the ballpark, mess around with the guys, play ping pong in the clubhouse with Albert Belle, shag balls in the outfield with Kenny Lofton. It was pretty cool.”
When the Indians opened Jacobs Field – now Progressive Field – in 1994, former President Bill Clinton threw out the ceremonial first pitch. But before taking the field, Clinton warmed up by playing catch with Ryan, then 15, in the batting cages underneath the stadium.
Memories such as these remain crystal clear to Ryan, but so do the moments when Jeff was away. As Ryan naturally began to pursue a baseball career after growing up around the sport, he only recalls his father making two of his high school games — a doubleheader.
“It makes it hard,” Ryan said. “He was getting updates every day on the phone or over messages with how I was doing.”
The Orioles selected Ryan in the 37th round of the 2000 First-Year Player Draft, but he chose not to sign. He attended Scottsdale Community College before transferring to Texas Christian University.
Ryan signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates as an undrafted free agent after college and played three professional seasons in the organization, reaching as high as Advance-A Lynchburg of the Carolina League.
In 2008, Ryan became the manager of the Oneonta Tigers of the New York-Penn League. The White Sox hired Ryan in 2009, and he spent the next five seasons working his way up through the organization as a manager before being assigned to Charlotte in 2014.
Ryan said his father’s influence pushed him toward coaching. Jeff has taught him a lot about the game, but Ryan said his father’s biggest lesson has been telling him how to handle his family life.
“Being away from home and having children, both my parents for myself and my wife are a great sounding board to have because they’ve been through it,” Ryan said. “They’ve done it, and they lasted through it.”
As the Knights took batting practice before their game against the Pawtucket Red Sox on Wednesday, William stood at Ryan’s hip as he hit ground balls to Charlotte’s infielders. When the players tossed the balls in, William caught them and passed them to his dad.
Knights second baseman Micah Johnson, who has played for Newman in every season since he was drafted in 2012, is William’s favorite player.
Newman said William and Johnson share a brotherly relationship, and it was evident on Wednesday as Johnson stood in the dugout and talked with William for at least five minutes before heading into the clubhouse.
“As he gets older, he gets to spend more and more time, get out there and take ground balls with the guys,” Ryan said. “He’s going to go through experiences he’ll never forget. I had opportunities being able to be at the ballpark that I can’t exchange for anything in the world.”
So what does William want to do when he grows up?