The Unnatural

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

Newberg says some 3,000 people subscribe to the report, gratis, and a few hundred people buy the books, which cost $22. But those numbers are misleading: He says his Web site, www.newbergreport.com, attracted some 2 million hits last month; at least 500,000 people went deep into the site. Beat writers at the Fort Worth Star-Telegramand Daily Oklahomanand other papers occasionally pull something from the report to use in their minor-league notes; ESPN's Peter Gammons is a fan. And then there are higher-ups in Rangers management who read the report, including owner Tom Hicks and the execs who run the farm system. Serious men take Newberg seriously.

"I've gotten the chance to speak to many fans who don't work within the game, and among those people, Jamey provides perspective and analysis on the upper end of thoughtfulness," says John Lombardo, the Rangers' director of minor-league operations. "Whether he is right or wrong isn't the point. He takes a very thoughtful, analytical and correct approach to what he's trying to formulate."

"It amazes me the information this guy acquires," says Grady Fuson, the Rangers' assistant general manager. "Sometimes it feels like Jamey knows what we do before we do it."

Despite surgery on his rotator cuff, Newberg played ball well after his high school heyday.
Despite surgery on his rotator cuff, Newberg played ball well after his high school heyday.
Newberg continues to post his reports despite a growing family, which includes  4-year-old daughter Erica.
Mark Graham
Newberg continues to post his reports despite a growing family, which includes 4-year-old daughter Erica.

In truth, his is less a newsletter than a fan's note, in which Newberg not only recaps the failures and successes of players from Spokane to Arlington but also offers his suggestions about what to do with certain players, speculates about what might happen to others, heralds the unknown heroes biding their time in the nowhere leagues and, occasionally, mentions his favorite band or talks about what his 4-year-old daughter's doing. In between insights into the meteoric rise of RoughRiders shortstop Ian Kinsler or the struggles of lefty pitcher Nick Bierbrodt or the promotion of outfielder Juan Senreiso from Clinton to Stockton, Newberg will throw you the occasional curve. Take this tidbit from his May 18 report, which began with a discourse on the upcoming Rule 4 Draft and ended with "I never was much of a Van Halen fan, but man, have there ever been more unique backup vocals than those wailed by Michael Anthony?"

Most who knew of Newberg before they came to know Newberg pictured him as the quintessential geek, one of the lonely and lost who had gorged himself on the minutiae of the minors. They envisioned him as a frumpy, disheveled and stained man locked in his room, with obscure players and their decimal-point stats as his only company. The Internet is crowded with fans who want to get in the game, be it sports or the movie business, but refuse to move out of their parents' basement.

"I think people who have never seen or met him probably expect to see some guy with a pocket protector and a lineup of pens and slide rules in his pocket," says Eric Nadel, the longtime radio voice of the Rangers. "He's exactly the opposite." Indeed, he's as normal as they come, a coat-and-tie man with a good job and a family, which will get even bigger with the arrival of a son in August. The worst thing you can say about him is that he's fanatical: He knows something about all the players signed to a contract with the Rangers, no matter where they play or how little they play. But he is no obsessive; his is merely the pursuit that became a small industry and an enormous necessity for the parents and wives of minor-league players, and the diversion that allowed him to stay in the game even when life took him out of it.

"I feel fortunate that I'm able to do both the report and my job and give what I consider to be all my energy to both," Newberg says. "When I'm in the office I work my tail off to do the best job I can for my clients, but when I'm watching a baseball game I'm not feeling guilty about watching baseball thinking, 'Oh, my God, I'm not thinking about the law right now.' So I think it's been a healthy way to not go insane sticking with just one of them. A healthy, if insane diversion."

Everyone interviewed for this story, from Rangers management to the parents of players, asks the same thing sooner or later: How the hell does he do this? And, also, they wonder: Whythe hell does he do this? They're in awe of his commitment to the minor-league system of a major-league team that in the past often exhibited bush-league behavior by throwing big money after bad players.

But Newberg and Hindman, both in their mid-30s, don't care much about the yesterdays. That's not why these guys spend their free time poring over the statistics of kids playing in the nowhere leagues. They're all about the promise of tomorrow, when the first-round pick clicks and the undrafted nobody zips through low-A and lands in Arlington the anonymous hero. Look only at this year's team, thus far a worst-to-first success story in which the overpaid famous are all gone, to be replaced by the young heroes of Newberg's books: Mark Teixeira at first base, Michael Young at second, Hank Blalock at third. These are the "kids" Alex Rodriguez once grumbled about having to baby-sit; these are the kids, all in their mid- to late 20s, Newberg has been trumpeting as the Rangers' potential saviors ever since they were selected. While the rest of us wonder how this ragtag bunch of discount wonders managed to lead the American League West in mid-July, Newberg proudly and silently wears that toldyasogrin.

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