Baseball: Leadoff man has been ‘X-factor’ for Northwestern

Matt Forman

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Energetic, enthusiastic, and like a little kid.

Those were the three ways coach Paul Stevens described his senior centerfielder Aaron Newman, a guy whose name Stevens has scribbled at the top of his lineup card 185 times over the past four seasons.

Newman’s been a four-year starter for the Wildcats, but he has not always had an easy road.

“It’s been a learning experience every year,” Newman said. “It was a little nerve-wracking at first as a freshman, basically not trying to mess up. But it’s been good. I’m not perfect, so I’ve just got to keep working at what I do.”

Stevens said it’s not just one thing that Newman does, though. He does all of the little things right.

“He’s an X-factor,” Stevens said. “The bottom line is that Mr. Newman only understands one thing – ‘Put me in coach.'”

Newman fouls off pitches to work opposing hurlers and plays a solid defensive centerfield. He does such a great job roaming the gaps of Rocky Miller Park that Stevens joked he would be confident playing with five infielders, letting Newman cover the majority of the outfield.

And he does all of the little things with a smile on his face, bringing energy to the ballpark.

“He’s got this grin from ear to ear on his face every day, ” Stevens said. “His smile is as genuine as the day is long.”

With Newman setting the table at the top of NU’s lineup, the team returns to action this weekend with a crucial Big Ten series against Illinois in Champaign, Ill. The Fighting Illini sit one game ahead of the Cats in the Big Ten standings, who will look to make up ground and secure a spot in postseason play.

That energy and attitude of Newman has fellow seniors like Bo Schultz ready to play. Schultz, a self-proclaimed goofball, said that Newman’s attitude is contagious.

“He’s a guy that’s always got a huge smile on his face, that thrives being on the baseball field and always wants to be around the game,” Schultz said. “It’s impressive and really wears off onto everyone else.”

Keeping a positive attitude helps Newman give his team 100 percent.

The senior takes pride in giving full effort every practice and every game, just like his favorite player, Kenny Lofton. Growing up a White Sox fan, Newman still had a reason to watch the hated Cleveland Indians.

“Like Lofton, I’m not the biggest guy or the strongest guy, but if you can play then you can play,” the 5-foot-9, 160-pounder said. “I want to look back on this and say I gave it everything I could.”

Newman’s enthusiasm shines in more ways than one. He does whatever he can for the team, even if it hurts.

Newman is NU’s career hit-by-pitch leader, getting hit a total of 45 times throughout his career, 12 more than the next closest in school history.

“I love it,” Newman said. “Any one way I can get on base, that’s what I’m going to do. It doesn’t matter whether I dive into it or get hit in the face with it, as long as I’m getting on base.”

Newman’s fearless attitude shows up in the stat book. While his batting average sits just above .300, Newman’s on-base percentage is .425, third-best on the team, a valuable statistic for a top of the lineup hitter.

Stevens said Newman’s ability to take one for the team is the closest thing he’s seen to anyone stealing first base. And he said it takes unique traits to repeatedly get hit by pitches, shake it off, and trot down to first.

“Intestinal fortitude, guts, love of the game,” Stevens said. “That’s a young man simply understanding whatever it takes to get the job done.”

Playing Wiffle ball in his backyard with friends helped Newman learn to play the game the right way and get the job done at a young age. But it was his father who truly taught the economics major how to play the game.

“I can remember times when I’d beg my dad to hit me ground balls, fly balls, early in the morning or late at night until it got dark,” he said.

Newman treats his teammates the same way his father treated him – as family.

“The way that he cares about his teammates, extending a shoulder, a hand or an ear is remarkable,” Stevens said. “He’s always behind the scenes. He understands family, and it’s just something very special.”