When having a first-time fundraiser for a new sports team, you have the usual suspects volunteer. Maybe a dad helping out the new coach, another dad probably helping out in the infield and one more in the outfield. But for the Syracuse Spartans, that’s not the way they roll.
Spartans General Manager J.J. Potrikus is an innovator—I mean, he started his own business, an enterprise of vision born out of his great love for baseball. So the idea man had an interesting way to go about making his businesses’ first-ever fundraiser a success: bring in a professional.
Kevin Newby or more affectionately known as “The Newb” is a former pro-ball player who played infield and outfield with the Montreal Expos organization throughout his career. While his time as a player only spanned about four years, he went on to coach and has been doing so ever since.
With The Newb’s help, Potrikus began to formulate a fundraiser idea called the Spartan Hit-A-Thon. It took around three months to plan, with all hands on deck. “I met JJ three years ago. He had just started the Spartans and Syracuse Baseball Prep. Two of his instructors had to leave for college and he needed to find good coaches quickly.” He called former OCC head Baseball coach Joe Antonio. Joe said “You’re in luck, I’ve got a guy in from California.” JJ soon found out they were a lot alike. Newby fell in love with the Spartans and they have been close friends ever since.
The Hit-A-Thon began at seven in the morning and ran until 5:05 pm capping off the day with Spartan coaches Connor Dunham and Ronnie Bidwell hitting their final shots off the Newb on a sunny Saturday in June. Around 108 Youth Spartans were involved in the fundraiser, their ages ranging from nine years old to 14. They raised money from sponsors they attained by hitting pitches for either a single, double, or homerun.
Newby tossed each Spartan youth baseball player 25 balls to hit as far and as best as they could. He had a chance to throw balls to 108 players, their parents, siblings, friends and other donors who attended the event. Anyone could attempt to get a hit or two for one dollar a ball.
You can imagine that anyone would get tired after throwing for six, seven, eight hours a day. Not Kevin Newby. He embraces the fact that he is able to be out there with young talent, ensuring they get the best possible advice and have a little fun while doing it.
How do you prepare to throw 5365 pitches…? “It’s truly God’s Hand. My arm is still in pretty good shape. Living in San Diego you get the opportunity to work with a lot of talented players year round. With so many teams and players to work with I’ve thrown probably 3000 baseballs a week for the last 40 years.” Newby said. “Shane McAuliffe, Regional Director for Aspen Fitness Clubs really helped me stay strong to get ready for the event. Aspen Fitness gave all Spartan players access to the clubs for summer weight training and Shane met me in the mornings to get me ready to throw. Believe it or not, it turns out they discovered that Shane’s father and uncles were childhood friends and teammates of the Newb.”
The Newb said before the event, “Getting deeper and deeper into my 60’s, I’ll be pleased if I throw 3000 pitches.”
Not only did he do this for fun, but Newby got the chance to help out his beloved Spartans organization as well.
“I’d get a lot of sponsors to back me a penny a pitch, a nickel a pitch, or just straight donations,” Newby exclaimed. “I will get as many as I can and then we will get the kids to go out and hit. I said, I’ll throw as long as I can for you JJ and at the end of the day, I couldn’t believe I threw 5,365 pitches.”
Many people jumped at the chance to sponsor Newby, as more than 85 different sponsors backed him for a penny a pitch or more. And after 5,365 pitches, well you can do the math.
The Spartans have many other great sponsors that have donated to them this season, like Aspen Fitness, Pies Guys Pizza, Apple Roofing, among many others helping the new Syracuse Spartans College team in their first season.
Newby was tested deep into the afternoon, as the Syracuse Spartans of the New York College Baseball League came and stopped by to take their turn at the plate. Each was thrown an additional ten balls to hit. As you can imagine, many sailed over the fence.
“I thought it was good. It was our first time doing it and there was a lot of work we had to put into it.” Syracuse Spartans General Manager J.J. Potrikus said. “I think the organization is only going to get better because of it.”
The Newb is a local product and now lives in San Diego. He graduated from West Genesee High School over 40 years ago. Coming back to the area and seeing how well the place and organizations are doing reminded him why he started playing baseball in the first place.
“95-year-old Manny Martinez was my high school coach, Joe Antonio was my summer league coach through high school and I sat with them at the game,” Newby said with a smile. “They changed my life, I wouldn’t be here without them. They gave me the opportunity to play as a sophomore on their teams. None of the fabulous things that have happened in my life would have ever happened without them. I will always be in their debt.”
One thing is for sure, the entire Spartan organization is glad that coach Martinez and coach Antonio gave that sophomore a chance on the baseball diamond. He wouldn’t be the Newb he is today without it. JJ calls him “The West Coast Spartan”. The Newb said he loves the way that sounds.