The Unnatural

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

"It was always really hard to get information about the minor-leaguers," Eric Nadel says. "We rarely talked about them on the air, especially anything below Triple-A. We didn't really know anything about the draftees each year. But since Jamey's come along, now everybody's a lot more aware of it, and I think he has a lot to do with that. They don't have to work to go find out who the Ranger prospects are and how they're doing and what their stories are, because Jamey does it all for you."

At first, Newberg wrote for the fans, and for himself. Then, he discovered, word of his report reached the families of players drafted by the team. Moms and dads awaited Newberg's e-mails the way a parent waits on a child's postcards from summer camp. For the first time, they were able to read just how well their son was doing and what his chances--his real chances, not what the kid or his coach said--were of reaching the next level in the system.

"It's been a lifesaver for us," says Laynce Nix Sr., whose son was drafted in the fourth round in June 2000. "Laynce was in Florida, then Savannah and then Florida again, and it just enabled us every morning to have a chance to see what he did the night before. From the moment Laynce was drafted, Jamey had a sneaking suspicion about Laynce. He said, 'Keep an eye on this guy.'"

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.

Newberg got to be close with a few of the players: He went to the funeral for Laynce Nix's grandfather, and he was especially tight with pitcher Spike Lundberg, a 26th-round pick in 1999 who had played shortstop in college but worked his way into becoming a real prospect. Lundberg was the first player to e-mail Newberg; he wondered how he got his info, said he liked reading about the other players in the system and got some teammates to sign up for the newsletter.

Mark Teixeira's father, Tex, began reading The Newberg Report within a week of his son's being taken in the first round in June 2001. They met and became friendly, to the point that Tex, who lives in Annapolis, Maryland, and acts as his son's financial adviser, felt comfortable enough to ask Newberg if there was an attorney in his office who could help Mark establish Texas residency. "Just from reading his stuff I felt comfortable with Jamey," Tex says. "Here's a guy I can trust. It's not just about how the kids are doing on the field but how he [and Mike] and others view these kids as people."

That intimacy can occasionally lead to some gloomy moments. Newberg and Hindman had chronicled the Rangers' 2000 first-round draft pick Scott Heard, a catcher drafted right out of high school in San Diego. His parents signed up for The Newberg Report, as they all do. But it became evident within a couple of seasons that Heard, who was struggling in Stockton, was one of those prospects who was nothing but potential. Newberg and Hindman began wondering aloud whether his career had permanently stalled; a batting average around .200 spoke for itself. Even so, Hindman says, actually putting it in print was "uncomfortable," because nobody likes to tell a parent his son is a disappointment.

Because Newberg and Hindman have become friendly with players and parents, they're privy to information long before the local media--and, on occasion, even before Rangers management. But they will not report something they've overheard, be it clubhouse whisper or a tidbit they get directly from a player or his parent. They did not write about how struggling pitcher John Barnett had to be talked into not quitting after his second season, though his folks had told them so; he eventually walked out of spring training in Arizona, having come to realize a life in baseball wasn't meant to be.

Newberg and Hindman do not want to be known as The Drudge Report of the Rangers' minor-league system; they will not say anything bad about a young kid for fear of labeling someone a failure before he's had time to prove himself. They share their opinions, but never in a nasty tone; they're honest but forgiving, fans first and journalists, they insist, almost never.

"I'm not selling papers," Newberg says. "That's not my purpose. People say I'm baseball media, and I say I'm not. I'm a fan. I'm just writing my opinions, and people care enough to read them. There have been things over the years that I've found out; players will tell me, or players' parents will tell me, maybe even the Rangers will tell me something, but I don't write it. And if a player tells me something, who knows if it's true? They've got an agenda. They're all fighting their own teammates to get up to the big leagues."

At first, Rangers management was suspicious of Jamey Newberg. Who the hell was this guy? What was his agenda? Why was he writing all this stuff about these unknown, unheralded prospects? And where was he getting his information? Their attitude bordered on paranoia, to the point that execs high up within the organization worried that maybe he was working for some player's agent or even a scout for another team who was out to sink these guys.
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