The Unnatural

Jamey Newberg's a major-league hit with his minor-league reports

It begins, as it always does, with a dream. A kid grows up wanting to be a baseball player. He sleeps with his glove beneath his pillow, his bat next to his bed. His walls are adorned with posters of players; his drawers are filled with their baseball cards. He plays catch with his father, and no matter where he goes, the kid wears the cap of his favorite team. Sometimes that child will pretend to be a player on his favorite team, and always he's at the plate with the game tied in the bottom of the ninth with two strikes, three balls, two outs and the bases loaded.

If he's lucky, that child will grow into a young man who plays Little League. He will make his mother buy him cleats, and he will walk everywhere in them; the sound of clack-clack-clack will help him pretend he's a pro walking the tunnel out to the field, where the fans announce his arrival with a conquering hero's roar. And if that lucky boy is gifted, he will grow into a teenager who plays for his high school's varsity team, and he will go to bed each night dreaming of going even further, but for most the dream never materializes. The child will become a man with a job, a wife, a child or two of his own. The dream dies a slow death, till it vanishes as though it never even existed.

Jamey Newberg once had that dream, which is not what makes him special. He played ball all his life, in every league available to a young boy growing up in Dallas. He even started at shortstop for the Hillcrest High School varsity team when he was just a freshman; he pitched a little for the team when he got closer to graduation. In 1987, and again in 1989, Newberg tried to join the University of Texas at Austin baseball team as a walk-on. During one tryout game, he had four at-bats--tripled once, doubled another time, walked a third time. He walked off the field thinking, I may have freakin' made the ball team. Nope. Sorry. Still, Jamey's wife, Ginger, recalls legendary UT coach Cliff Gustafson remarking to her about how good her then-boyfriend was.

Since the inception of The Newberg Report, Newberg has published a  year-in-review--and year-in-preview--he sells through his Web site.
Since the inception of The Newberg Report, Newberg has published a year-in-review--and year-in-preview--he sells through his Web site.
Newberg, second from left, played varsity baseball at Hillcrest High School all four years as a Panther.
Newberg, second from left, played varsity baseball at Hillcrest High School all four years as a Panther.

"Jamey didn't expect he would make it," she says. "He was disappointed, but he moved on." Instead Newberg played intramural ball, and later on his law firm's softball team, and he was better than most. He could throw a man out at home plate all the way from center field; probably still could, if he hadn't torn his rotator cuff and forced an operation to repair it.

So Jamey Newberg got closer than most to The Dream, but he came up well short. He knew guys who'd go on to play in the minors and even take a sip of coffee in the majors. But he went on with his life--off to law school and into a law firm, into marriage, into fatherhood, into a world where he'd be just a guy who watched baseball but would never again play it competitively. For most guys, that would have been enough. That would have been it. The dream? What dream?

Maybe it just becomes a different dream, that's all.

This very afternoon, Newberg will go to his job at a downtown law firm--Vial, Hamilton, Koch & Knox--where, for a decade, he has been paid well to defend insurance companies against personal-injury lawsuits. But this morning, as he has done for some eight years, he will get out of bed while the wife and daughter are sleeping, turn on the computer and check to see how well all of the Texas Rangers' minor-league teams did the night before. Some are close to home: the Frisco RoughRiders, the Rangers' AA team, and the Triple-A Oklahoma City RedHawks. Others are in faraway places such as Stockton, California, and Spokane, Washington, and Clinton, Iowa, and Surprise, Arizona, where teams have names like the LumberKings and the Ports.

He will check out box scores and game reports, which have been sent to him by another local attorney named Mike Hindman, who gets up each morning at 5 to pen detailed recaps of last night's action and select the stars of each game. (In case you were wondering, Emerson Frostad of the Clinton LumberKings, the Rangers' low-A team in the Midwest League, went two-for-four, with a three-run double, in the team's 13-5 win over Burlington on July 15.) Newberg will also look at the Web sites for the dailies around town and in the tiny papers in the distant farm teams' cities, scouring the fine print for revelatory tidbits. And, finally, he will see what Baseball America, the revered minor-league scouting publication, had to say about any of the Rangers' prospects.

He will then take all of this information and write his Newberg Report, an e-mailed newsletter sent to the most ardent Texas Rangers fans and nearly all of the families of players shuffling through the team's minor-league system. At the end of each season, he publishes an incredibly dense book touting not only next season's prospects, but recounting the highs and lows of the previous year. To read them is to glimpse into the Rangers' future and see Andrew Wishy and Jason Botts and Kelvin Jimenez tossing around the crystal ball.

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