Lyle Overbay played for eight teams during his 14-year Major League Baseball career, including a stint with the New York Yankees. Photo by Keith Allison on Flickr
It might be baseball blasphemy, but it needs to be said. Derek Jeter had a flaw.
According to former Major League Baseball first baseman Lyle Overbay, the New York Yankees’ Captain Clutch was quite the chatterbox when he reached first – at least until he got the steal sign. Then Jeter would go silent.
For some, it might be tough to finally accept the seemingly infallible Jeter as human, but to Overbay, Jeter’s tell was just one of the countless things he learned during his 14-year career.
With his playing days in the past, the Centralia, Washington native is using lessons from his former career to manage a 76,500 square-foot multi-sport complex, two websites and his kids’ Little League teams.
Overbay will be the first to admit that he was never the most talented player on the field. After being selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 18th round of the 1999 MLB Draft, he devoted himself to working his way through the minor leagues and into the show. Much to his surprise, the extra hours at the field paid off when he got his call 2001.
“I honestly thought they were joking,” he said. “Very rarely do you get called up from Double A as a September call-up, so it totally caught me off guard. I felt like I was good, but not good enough to skip Triple A. It was awesome, but definitely more than I expected at the time.”
Overbay joined the Diamondbacks for an away series in San Francisco and found himself face-to-face with pitcher Randy Johnson.
Lyle Overbay played in 142 games for the New York Yankees in 2013. Contributed photo
“I grew up watching him and (Ken) Griffey (Jr.) on the Mariners,” he said. “He saw my bag and knew who I was, then all of sudden he stuck out a giant hand and said ‘I’m Randy Johnson,’ and I said ‘I know who you are.’ ”
Although he only played in two games and was left off the playoff roster that won the 2001 World Series, Overbay’s first call-up in Arizona was crucial in laying out his foundation as a player. Johnson, who had a 21-year career, showed him that making it in the majors was more about hard work than skill. Overbay bought into his system and watched as other players let their talent go to waste.
“The average stay of a major league baseball player is only three years or so,” he said. “The guys that make it eight, nine or ten years really put time and effort. I wasn’t going to screw around and lose focus. Some guys do that, and they’re content, and that’s fine. It just wasn’t my dream.”
By 2003, Overbay was the starting first baseman for the Diamondbacks, and he began a 14-year stay in the majors. He hit a league-leading 53 doubles and batted .301 in 2004, was named American League Player of the Week in 2006 and 2009 and set a Toronto Blue Jays team record by reaching base in 12 consecutive at-bats in 2008. He even pitched a perfect 1/3 inning in 2014 by coercing former teammate Ryan Doumit to pop out.
Overbay played for six teams, including the New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates and Toronto Blue Jays, and although he dreamt of being a life-long Diamondback after his first call-up, he found himself most at home during his two stints with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Just being a Yankee was one of the coolest things ever, but the Milwaukee fans took me in and made me feel at home."
“Just being a Yankee was one of the coolest things ever, but the Milwaukee fans took me in and made me feel at home,” he said. “They believed in me and made me more confident, and they really love the game of baseball.”
While his list of accomplishments is more than respectable, Overbay said he’s most proud of being on the field for Yankees closer Mariano Rivera’s last inning and catching the final out.
“He’s going to be first ballot, maybe 100 percent of the votes to get in the Hall of Fame,” Overbay said. “No one’s ever done that, and I think he’s got a great chance. I got to be part of that, and it’s selfish, but I love that there’s only eight other guys in the world that can say that (they were on the field for the final out).”
Name: Lyle Overbay | Age: 38
Resides in: Olympia, Wash.
Family: Wife, Sarah. Children, Adam, 11; Alex, 10; Luke, 6; Audrey, 3; Eddie, 15 months.
Interests: Spending time with family, golf, water and snow skiing.
The Centralia, Washington, native played high school football, basketball and golf, but knew early on that baseball was his true passion. During his senior year at the University of Nevada, he was selected in the 18th round of the 1999 Major League Baseball draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Two years later he made his major league debut during the Diamondbacks' World Series run. By 2004 Overbay was an everyday starter for the Milwaukee Brewers, led the major league with 53 doubles and hit .301. He played for six teams during his 14-year career and held a .266 career average with 151 home runs and 675 RBI. During a short stint with the Yankees, Overbay was on the field for closer Mariano Rivera’s final inning. Later in his baseball career, Overbay led the creation of two websites to support youth sports in his hometown. He retired in 2014 and began working full time as Managing Director for Northwest Sports Hub in Centralia, Wash.
1999: Graduated from the University of Nevada in Reno, Nevada and was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the MLB draft.
2001: Made major league debut with the Arizona Diamondbacks, appeared in two games and went 1-for-2.
2002: Led the minor leagues in hits (180), RBI (109) and at bats (525) and was named Minor League Player of the Year.
2004: Led major leagues in doubles (53) and hit .301 with 16 home runs 87 RBI for the Milwaukee Brewers.
2005: Drove in a career-high six RBI in July 23 game against the Cincinnati Reds after hitting two home runs, including a grand slam. Hit 19 home runs and was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in the off-season.
2006: Had most productive offensive season of his career, posting 181 hits, 22 home runs, 92 RBI with a .312 batting average. Hit .423 with four home runs between June 26 and July 2 and was named American League Player of the Week.
2008: Set Blue Jays franchise record by reaching base in 12 consecutive at bats. Hit into unassisted triple play, the 15th player in MLB history to do so.
2013: Signed with New York Yankees, went 4-for-5 with two doubles, a homerun and five RBI during May 10 game against Kansas City. Replaced Mark Teixeira as starting first baseman and caught final out of Mariano Rivera's career.
2014: Returned to Milwaukee to play the final season of his career. Hit .233 with four homeruns and 35 RBI in 121 games, and pitched a 1/3 of an inning against the Atlanta Braves, forcing former teammate Ryan Doumit to pop out.
Overbay exceeded his goal of having a sustained big-league presence, but he more than paid his dues to do so. He moved eight times during his career, through trades and signings, with his longest stint being a five-year stay in Toronto. Meanwhile, his wife Sarah moved with him and took care of their five children -- all of which were 10 years old or younger.
“It was tough moving, and sometimes you don’t realize how good you had it until you leave,” said Overbay, who especially liked summers in Toronto. “The kids always came with me, but when the older two started school in September I wouldn’t see them for a month because I was always on the road.
“That was one of the toughest things to handle, you just miss that daily stuff and you start changing your views of your life. You’re so involved in baseball, and then you see your kids not having a father for three or four weeks and it almost stops becoming worth it. That’s not why I stopped, but it became part of the grind.”
In 2011, eight days after Overbay was released by the Pittsburgh Pirates, Diamondbacks’ first baseman Xavier Nady was put on the 15-day disabled list with a fractured wrist. Arizona signed Overbay, who played the remaining 18 games and, after Nady opted for free agency, played 121 games the next season. This time around with the Diamondbacks, however, Overbay was the hardworking veteran setting an example for the young guys.
Off the field, the way he raised his kids as a father and husband, he’s been a great role model for everyone."
- Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt
Three-time National League All-Star Paul Goldschmidt was in his rookie season trying to earn a spot during Overbay’s second stint in Arizona. Goldschmidt said a rookie and a veteran fighting over a position can get awkward, but things were never like that with him and Overbay.
“We were the only two first basemen on the roster, so we spent a lot of time together, and I tried to watch everything he did and pick his brain, whether it was taking ground balls or in the batting cage,” the 2013 National League RBI leader said. “There’s not that many infield coaches that played first base, so to get a guy like Lyle who played first helped me a ton with footwork and the nuances of playing on the (right) side of the field.”
When he was called up in 2011, Goldschmidt was well known for his offensive prowess, but he was hardly considered a defensive stalwart. After spending time with Overbay, Goldschmidt started playing further toward second base -- something Overbay was known for -- allowing him to reach more grounders headed into the hole. Soon, he had the sixth-best Ultimate Zone Rating, a diametric rating of defensive range, in the majors.
Goldschmidt also improved tremendously in scooping one-hop throws out of the dirt. By 2013 he was a Gold Glove winner and had fewer errors per inning than anyone at the position. In 2014 the Arizona Republic published a story about Goldschmidt’s stunning defensive improvement, mentioning Overbay prominently.
Overbay said he detected an immense amount of talent in Goldschmidt, and decided he was going to help him in any way possible. Goldschmidt was receptive and, although he struggled at the beginning of his career, worked through it and is now one of the top players in the NL.
“It was fun to watch because he’s got all the talent in the world, and he put it out there and made the most of it. Now he’s in the MVP race every year,” Overbay said. “That to me is a sign of a player that gets it.”
Lyle Overbay retired after the 2014 season.
The only thing that didn’t rub off on Goldschmidt was Overbay’s propensity to chat at first base. Through 14 years in the league, Overbay got to know a lot of players and enjoyed asking about their favorite vacation spots, stockpiling ideas for his own vacations. He also picked up on their tendencies and quirks – like Jeter’s.
In the second half of his career, Overbay took on another project in his hometown of Centralia. Dale Pullin, the co-Managing Director of Northwest Sports Hub, dreamed of building an amateur sports facility to boost youth sports and economic development in the community, and he needed a guy like Overbay to back him up.
“Lyle has been great in the community, so he was all in right from the get-go,” Pullin said. “It also fit his own personal goals with what he wanted to do in the future.”
The two already knew of each other through community involvement, but they had never worked together on a project of this size. Pullin, who already owned athletic clubs, knew the business side, and Overbay knew sports facilities better than most.
The 75,000 square foot complex features three hardwood basketball courts, five volleyball courts, full-size Little League and softball fields, two indoor soccer fields and eight more courts on the way. The interchangeable fields and courts make the Hub an ideal spot for tournaments, and for the fans there’s 14,000 square feet of Mezzanine bleachers and full concessions.
Overbay began spending his off seasons working on nwsportshub.com, a website dedicated to organizing the facility’s operation. Between sports and community events, the Hub is booked nearly a year in advance.
He also took the lead on fastpitchnw.com, creating dozens of detailed profiles to showcase high school softball players and tracking their careers into college.
After paying outside companies to code their websites for several years, the partners stumbled across Sport Ngin and found that its software catered to their needs.
“I’ve been really impressed so far; you throw stats in your app and boom they’re up there,” Overbay said. “It’s cool to see us lame guys that don’t know much about computers get this stuff done, and if I can’t do it, I call Adam, my rep from Sport Ngin to help me out.”
In the Sport Ngin office, newly hired account manager Adam Nelson was assigned Pacific Northwest accounts, including Overbay and Pullin’s. Nelson readily admits that he’s not a huge baseball fan, but he had heard of Overbay before taking his account and made some of his friends at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire jealous.
“A bunch of them were Brewers fans, so I’d rub it in and say, ‘Yeah, Lyle just texted me,’ ” Nelson said. “In reality we do most of our business through email and phone calls, but they didn’t have to know.”
Another perk of handling the Overbay account is the signed bat sitting on Nelson’s desk. The “In the Zone Bat” is one of three Overbay sent to Sport Ngin employees Brady Stromme, Adam Blake and Nelson as a gesture of appreciation for their work on his sites. Stromme and Blake took theirs home, but Nelson’s is still in the office. He said anytime a phone call crosses the four minute mark, he tends to find it resting in his hands. Although the autograph is worn off, his co-workers still look to it in times of need.
For Overbay, the concept of a magic bat never seemed to register. Instead, he’s still following the example set by Johnson in his early playing days. Diligence conquers magic any day of the week, and it tends to rub off on those around him.
“He was very consistent in everything he did, and that’s his biggest asset,” Goldschmidt said. “He was able to find that consistency for over a decade (in the MLB) whereas most guys only get three or four years of it.
“Off the field, the way he raised his kids as a father and husband, he’s been a great role model for everyone. We all have stuff away from baseball and he was a great role model in that aspect of life as well.”
Pullin said the major league work ethic shows in how meticulous Overbay is in everything – even down to washing his car.
“He would never take his cars through a carwash or let anyone clean them but himself,” Pullin said. “He has a sense of pride about his cars -- the same pride he puts in everything he’s involved in.”
Overbay is often the first one at the Sports Hub rolling out turf for the day’s tournament. And if it’s not perfect, even if one seam is off, he has no problem rolling it back up and trying again.
Lyle Overbay and his wife, Sarah, have five children - with a sixth on the way.
Seventeen hundred miles away, Nelson can tell how much Overbay cares for the work he’s doing.
“He busted his butt on this thing to set it up,” Nelson said. “When he played for the Brewers he told me that on the road all he did was FaceTime his kids and work on the website. He’s a workaholic on these things, and I think that’s part of being a pro athlete.”
The only thing Overbay hasn’t excelled at is taking it easy. With five kids - and a sixth on the way - two websites and perfect seams to roll, he hasn’t found time to retire in the traditional sense.
“I’ve definitely been a lot busier than just playing baseball, but it ends up being a good busy because I’m spending my time with my kids,” he said.
Recently, Overbay has taken some new baseball prospects under his wing, namely his sons Adam and Alex and their Little League teammates. Overbay is learning how to balance being a coach and a dad simultaneously.
“I wasn’t going to sit back and watch my kids get coached by someone who doesn’t have the experience I had – it would be a disservice to them,” he said. “I’m not going to make them into major league players, but I’d like to give them to tools to get through tough periods by working hard and having a good attitude.”