WILLMAR — Even when baseball was at its most uncertain during the COVID-19 pandemic, Jayson Newman was staying ready.

“You never know when you’re going to get that call,” Newman said. “I was still doing my workouts: doing my running and hitting and throwing with my dad. My parents are very supportive of my career and have helped me throughout my entire life with baseball.”

On June 15, Newman got that call (or email, in actuality) from the Willmar Stingers. The Northwoods League season in the Minnesota-Iowa Pod was set to begin on July 1.

For Newman, a redshirt senior from California State-Northridge, that meant a 26-hour cross-country drive to get to Willmar a week before the start of the season.

“Figuring out the analytics” was the tough part for Newman. “Twenty-six hours, I had to figure out where I’m stopping, figuring out if I have a ride or I don’t, where to stay and where not to.

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“Again, my parents were super helpful with that. While I was on the road, they’d find places for me, with my mom being a little more stressed about where to stay.”

One certainty about Newman’s baseball career is some of his best work has come while in a Stingers uniform.

Heading into this weekend’s three-game series with St. Cloud, Newman has been a vital two-way threat for Willmar. At the plate, he leads the Stinger regulars with a .352 batting average, a .634 slugging percentage and a 1.093 on-base plus slugging percentage. He’s also tied for the team lead in home runs (five) and RBIs (24).

Also the go-to guy in late-game and save situations, Newman has two saves and 16 strikeouts while sporting a 4.66 ERA.

Stinger connection

Newman’s path to Willmar came from a chance encounter after playing a summer with the now-defunct Fayetteville (North Carolina) SwampDogs of the Coastal Plain League.

“The coach there was Matt Hollod and he was previously here,” Newman said.

Hollod was the manager of the Stingers’ inaugural season in 2010 until 2014. “He mentioned me to Ryan (Voz) and within a couple days of being home in LA for summer ball, Ryan got in touch with me and he said I was coming out here. I was super excited from hearing stories from guys who have been here before.”

In 2018, Newman showcased his two-way abilities right away with eight home runs, 31 RBIs and a .279 average while tallying 10 saves, 53 strikeouts and a 2.48 ERA.

He was slated to return in 2019, but an arm injury during the college season required Tommy John surgery. Newman sports a large scar on his right elbow and four smaller scars on his left wrist where the palmaris longus tendon was removed to replace the torn UCL in his throwing arm.

Willmar relief pitcher/designated hitter Jayson Newman zeroes in on a pitch during a game in the 2018 season against La Crosse at Bill Taunton Stadium. 

Joe Brown / West Central Tribune
Willmar relief pitcher/designated hitter Jayson Newman zeroes in on a pitch during a game in the 2018 season against La Crosse at Bill Taunton Stadium. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

“I remember the pitch it happened on; it was a cutter and something just didn’t feel right but I shook it off and it went away,” Newman said. “I threw another pitch and it was low. Normally, you won’t see me use a lot of emotion on the mound, but I was struggling. Coach came out and I threw two more pitches and then I couldn’t do it so I had to come out of the game.

“It was a Sunday game. I got an x-ray the day after, an MRI on Tuesday and the reading was Thursday.”

While he couldn’t play summer ball in 2019, Newman made it a point to come and visit Willmar when the opportunity came.

“Luckily I was in a place with my rehab where I could come back and visit so I came out during the alumni weekend,” Newman said. “It was a blast to see the guys. Some of my (college) teammates were out here at the time and I visited with my host family. They were so great to me the first year and it was tough to convince them to host another player. But I’m glad they did and I’m glad they let me back into their homes this year.”

Good college start

The 2020 season started strong for Newman as he hit for a .333 average with four doubles, two home runs and 13 RBIs for the Matadors in 14 games. On the mound, he tossed 2-2/3 innings, with five strikeouts compared to two hits and two walks allowed and a 0.00 ERA in three appearances before the season was canceled after 15 games due to concerns over the coronavirus.

The last two college baseball seasons ended unceremoniously fast for Newman, but he has found a way to thrive in Northwoods League play. Plus, because of the NCAA’s ruling that spring athletes would have another year of eligibility, Newman gets the chance to be a two-way player this summer. Under normal circumstances, a college senior can only pitch in the Northwoods League, according to Willmar co-owners Voz and Marc Jerzak.

“It’s a weird situation where I don’t know technically how I’m labeled,” Newman admitted, “but I’m thankful for what I get to do.”

And, Newman said he’ll be ready to suit up for CSU-Northridge in 2021.

“I always have faith in myself, no matter where I’m at,” he said. “Those first couple years (at CSU-Northridge) were a struggle for me, but you know what? It made me the ball player I am today and I’m thankful for that.”