Oct. 10, 2013
By STEVE COTTON
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- If it weren’t for his grandfather, Josh Newman might have arrived at Marshall years ago. But it wouldn’t have been on the baseball field and he probably wouldn’t have become a Major League pitcher.
Had Newman played his college ball for the Thundering Herd, the Wheelersburg, Ohio, native would have been running with J.T. Rembert, Kevin Atkins and Charlie Tynes as a linebacker for Bob Pruett’s early 2000s football teams.
“I was all into football,” Newman said, shortly after being named as Jeff Waggoner’s new pitching coach last week. “I liked baseball, but there was something extra about those football Friday nights that I just loved. And I came to Marshall on an official recruiting visit. I was very interested in playing for Coach Pruett.”
Toledo and Miami of Ohio also wooed Newman for his football abilities, but a conversation with his grandfather, Jim Newman, changed the course of his career.
“I was getting offers from colleges for both sports,” Newman said. “My grandpa sat me down and asked me, ‘Josh, would you rather tackle a 240-pound running back or would you rather strike him out?’
“I didn’t have the kind of speed that would have made the NFL a possibility and he made me think about my future in sports. I realized that he was right and I had a much better chance at long-term success in baseball.”
So Newman’s path veered north to Columbus and a baseball career at Ohio State, where he was a Freshman All-American in 2001 and won 32 games while striking out nearly 300 batters on his way to three All-Big Ten honors by the time his Buckeye career was over.
He was drafted by the Reds in the 31st round following his junior season but chose to return to Ohio State, then was drafted 19th round by Colorado the next year and after three seasons in the minor leagues made it to “The Show” in time for the Rockies’ 2007 trip to the World Series.
The next two seasons, though, were spent bouncing back and forth between the bigs and Triple A ball with the Rockies and then the Kansas City Royals, and Newman found himself at another career crossroads.
“I had been going up and down with the Royals, up to Kansas City, back down to Triple A, and then I was a free agent that offseason,” Newman said. “I had offers of minor league contracts, but no Major League offers.
“Greg Beals had gotten the head coaching job at Ohio State and I had worked camps with him in the past so we knew one another and he asked if I’d like to be a volunteer assistant on his staff. My wife (Sarah) and I sat down and talked the opportunity over, and ultimately the thought of coaching, the idea of being a mentor to young guys the way my coaches had helped me, was very attractive.
“We decided it was time for a new path and I got my coaching career started at Ohio State.”
Among those who helped the Ohio State pitching staff improve its team ERA from 4.94 in 2011 to 3.24 last spring -- with three hurlers earning all-conference honors and three being drafted in the last two years -- Newman himself serves as a model of how hard work and a good plan can make a pitcher successful.
“I wasn’t a guy who was blessed with a 95 mile-per-hour fastball,” Newman said. “I had to bust it and bring it every day. I had to outwork others in the weight room, study hitters harder, do every single thing to prepare as well as I possibly could.
“Everything I could control I took care of to the best of my ability. That’s the same attitude I’m bringing as a coach and to our players. Be ready to work harder than the other guy.”
Another aspect of Newman’s philosophy is that he tucked the team’s radar gun away in the closet and isn’t sure when he’ll bring it out.
“Right now, I’m not worrying about our results, especially how hard the guys are throwing, and I don’t want them thinking about that either,” Newman said.
“I’m focused, and I want them focused, on throwing first-pitch strikes, commanding the fastball and finishing at bats in three pitches or fewer. We’re going to learn how to pitch and how to prepare.”
Not only will the lack of a radar gun at this point keep pitchers from trying to make it light up with impressive numbers at the expense of what Newman is looking for, it can help others not obsess about not throwing as hard as their teammates.
“If you’re not one of those ultra-talented guys, you run into so many people telling you your fastball isn’t fast enough or your curveball doesn’t break enough or whatever isn’t good enough,” Newman said. “On the other hand, I always had that coach who was willing to work with me to overcome all the things I didn’t have and maximize what I did have, to motivate me to work harder than I thought I could.
“I get chills right now thinking about those people and their effect on me, and that’s what I want to be as a coach.”
One of those guys was Newman’s manager in Colorado, who was among the first to call with congratulations when he got the Marshall job. That man is now managing the Pittsburgh Pirates, guiding them to the playoffs for the first time in 21 years.
“Clint Hurdle took the time to call me when I got hired,” Newman said. “How many managers who are trying to win a pennant are going to take the time to do that?”
Hurdle is just one of many relationships that Newman draws upon to form his baseball philosophy and use as a sounding board.
“My roommate in college was (current Cleveland Indian) Nick Swisher, who’s from Parkersburg, and I’m very close with him and his dad (former big league catcher Steve Swisher).
“Stu Cole is the third base coach for the Rockies now and he was my manager in Single A and Double A and also in the Arizona Instructional League, and I keep in regular touch with him. My grandpa still lives right here in Wheelersburg and I still get great advice from him and try to listen and learn all I can.”
It’s not only baseball people who’ve influenced what Newman is trying to set in place with his new team.
“From Day 1, I wanted to get to know these pitchers on a personal level,” he said. “I was fortunate to get to spend some time with Jim Tressel at Ohio State and he gave one bit of coaching advice that stands out to me: ‘Players won’t care how much you know about baseball until they know how much you care about them.’
“That rang so true with me and the first thing I wanted to do was to build relationships with our guys as I was learning about what they can do on the mound.”
As Newman builds the relationships with his new staff, all these elements are designed instill a winning attitude.
“Preparation will lead to confidence and confidence will lead to results,” he said. “We’re going to learn how to pitch and how to compete. If that’s not happening, it’s a bad match between me and that pitcher and we’ll find someone who does want to do those things, because that’s what we’re about.”
This story first appeared in Issue 8 of the Herd Insider and on GoHerd.com.