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Meet Nova Newcomer at the heart of the Seattle Mariners

The Seattle Mariners have a new team member this season making a big impact off the field. Her role focuses on the heart of the team: uplifting kids and the community through the power of baseball. Nova Newcomer is the Mariners Director of Community Relations and Mariners Care Foundation.

She's fresh to Seattle, but no newcomer to baseball. In fact, the sport has been the strongest thread in Newcomer's life, weaving from Little League to where she is today.

Newcomer recalls how baseball left a (literal) mark on her, "I was introduced to the sport by a softball to the forehead at my very first Little League tryouts at the ripe age of 9."

"Playing softball was my happy place," Newcomer continues. "I remember my coach in 6th grade first asking me to be a catcher and I never looked back. I loved being involved in every pitch, every play. Except for a couple of days off in center field or 1st base to give my knees a rest, I was a catcher until my final game of high school softball. The softball field was where I first felt like a leader, where I felt like I belonged and I was one of those kids who, that opportunity to play was not guaranteed. I am so grateful that I had community support to play. I would not be here without it."

Fields and dreams

Newcomer grew up in foster care and acknowledges that every child's experience in the foster care system is unique. For young Nova, baseball was an escape that grew into a passion.

"For me, the chance to continue playing Little League softball in my neighborhood after the alienating and heartbreaking experience of being removed from my mother’s care, was a lifesaving experience," Newcomer shares. "It’s why, in my career, I have been an advocate for youth facing barriers to access to sports and activities, including supporting legislation in Oregon to ensure that every child in foster care has access to and support for participating in extracurricular activities. I was shaped and impacted by experiences as a child that I can genuinely say informs how I develop programs and gather resources."

Newcomer grew up in Portland and cherishes those core memories from her youth, "My first baseball memories are going to Portland Beavers games with my dad at Civic Stadium. I always think about that moment right as you walk up to the field before the game. The first time you walk up the ramp or the stairs and see the first little glimpse of dirt and then you come out into the open and you see the expanse of the view. The whole field laid out in all its beauty and unique dimensions and the buzz of the crowd replacing your pulse for just that moment and taking your breath away. I could never get enough of *that* feeling."

Baseball is beyond a sport for Newcomer. It's a way of life for her and now, her own children.

"Passing that feeling on to my kids and kids in the community... everyone should get to experience that with a parent or the VIP grown up in their life."

Newcomer notes how cost can be a barrier to participating in Little League. Total strangers invested around $750 throughout her childhood that allowed young Nova to play youth sports for six years.

"I wasn't from a 'good family,' I wasn't a top prospect, and I might even show up late to a game or practice because it took TriMet 45 minutes to an hour to get there, and then it's possible I'd be missing part of my gear or uniform. I was just a little girl who wanted to play ball and people in my community stepped up to make sure I could play. No one knew if I would be back next year. No one knew that I would play Little League for 6 years and then 4 years of high school softball for my Parkrose Broncos. They just made sure I got the opportunity."

Finding a league of her own

Her tenacity to work around baseball started early, "My first jobs were in baseball. I worked in souvenirs in 1993 for the Portland Beavers. Being at the ballpark every night was such a thrill for this baseball-obsessed teenager. I learned to size hats on sight, even if people said they had just had a haircut, I could tell a 7 1/2 from a 7 5/8. When that version of the Beavers left in 1994, I learned that the Portland Rockies were coming in the summer of 1995. I sent a cover letter and resume to the retail manager of the Portland Rockies and told him why he should hire me. He said he had never received a cover letter and resume for a job in souvenirs."

After graduating from Portland State University, Newcomer entered the corporate world of business communication and then consulting. Her work involved international travel and utilized her wide set of skills. But something was missing.

"I knew that I needed to be in a role where I could give back."

Newcomer joined the board at a nonprofit called Friends of Baseball (FOB), where a letter caught her eye.

"What finally led me back to working in baseball, was a scholarship request from a set of grandparents. They wanted to know if their 5-year-old grandson (both of his parents were incarcerated) could have a scholarship to play t-ball. After reading this letter, I couldn’t sleep at night. I just kept thinking, 'This kid was me. And in 30+ years, not only have things not changed for many youth and families, but the gaps in access have only widened.'"

The letter prompted Newcomer to go from a board member of FOB to Executive Director. She helped secure the Seattle Mariners as early financial supporters of the children's nonprofit.

"For me to now be in this role with the Mariners, being able to invest in community partners whose leaders are doing the work to address disparities and advance equity and justice, it feels like my story is coming full circle."

Mariners Care Foundation

Newcomer explains what it felt like joining the Mariners organization as Director of Community Relations, "It might sound cliché but it was my dream to work for the Mariners. The fact that I get to work in Major League Baseball and give back to the community through that role – I just pinch myself. There is nothing that beats finishing a long day of work and walking from my desk to a seat in the ballpark and just pausing for a moment to take it all in. The skyline, the grass, the dirt, the buzz of the people (fans and staff alike) – it’s magical. It’s my job to share that magic – every day, I just think about how lucky I am AND the great responsibility I have to make sure this place and this game is for everyone."

Her work through the Mariners Care Foundation helps support children across Western Washington.

"At our Play Ball Weekend event at T-Mobile Park, we had a couple thousand Little Leaguers come out for Little League Day and celebrate with the biggest end-of-the-season party ever," Newcomer says. "For this day, we also made sure to add an access component and brought out youth ballplayers and their teams who may not otherwise have been able to come to the ballpark."

The Mariners are also actively involved with communities across the region, "From the Pride Parade and the Skate Party & Community Day hosted by the NW African American Museum.... to our Refuse to Abuse 5K and the Generations of the Game Panel on Juneteenth featuring past and current Mariners, as well as one of our Hometown Nine Fellows representing the future of the game – I am really proud of the work our team at the Mariners does," she says.

"We want everyone in our region to feel welcome as a fan," Newcomer explains. "It’s essential to who we are as an organization and quite honestly, our success on and off the field depends on it. When we aren’t connecting with all corners of our community, we aren’t whole."

The Mariners also care about everyone's game-day experience.

For instance, we asked Newcomer to name her favorite ballpark treat, "Cotton candy," she firmly says. "I can hear my kids’ voices ringing in my ear right now asking for it. I don’t eat it myself much anymore, but it was my favorite growing up. I rarely got to have it because my dad always said, 'We didn’t come to buy anything.' But he took me to my first Mariners game in 1989 and he bought me cotton candy. Just having the funds to get up to Seattle was a stretch for my dad – cotton candy will always be special to me because of that. I do have to brag on the Mariners organization a bit - they are working to meet the realities of families like mine growing up – our value menu puts ballpark favorites within reach for families."

Major League moment

We wanted to know if Newcomer could pick a favorite M's player, past or present.

"I have so many Mariners players who I admire. I mean, Mr. Mariner, The Kid, Edgar, Ichiro. But I have to go with Felix Hernandez. I mean, he’s King Felix. There’s a story, of course - my family attended a Mariners Value Game back in September of 2017. With our family of 6, those value games made it possible for us to come more often than we normally would have. After the game, my husband was at the Team Store buying a Christmas present from the clearance rack and he had us wait at the home plate entrance for him. My son, who was 9 at the time, saw the picture of Felix on the side of the stadium and he said, “Mom, can you take my picture with Felix.” I’m setting up to take the photo and this man comes up to Elliott and gestures to join the photo. Elliott looks to me a bit nervous to which I respond, “Elliott, that’s Felix Hernandez!!” And so, I can only assume that Felix, while waiting outside the stadium for a car, noticed that purest fan moment of a child just wanting to take a picture with a picture and made this incredible lifetime memory. My son bawled his eyes out all the way back to where our car was parked. To this day, we still can’t believe it happened."

Her perfect game

So now you understand how the thread of baseball is interwoven in Newcomer's identity. But what keeps the spark fresh?

"What strikes me today about baseball is the absolute courage it takes to get up in that batter’s box. Just like life. I think of the children who are not the stars, the ones who the game seems to constantly force to get back up, dust themselves off, and get back in that box. The COURAGE of that. I think of all of the children who finally get that chance to connect bat and ball – some children go through a whole season or multiple seasons before they get their first hit. For some, it could be their only one. And yet they are the ones who get back in that box time after time – the sheer will of that, the optimism, the sweetness of that is so inspiring to me."

She continues, "I love and am in awe of baseball at the highest level on any stage, but where I get my inspiration from is the little moments of sunlight that the game gives to us through the eyes and experiences of all the youth who play – pay attention to the storyline of those 10, 11, 12 batters – their experience matters. Without them, there’s no team to play on. And no one’s place in the lineup should be static, either. In life or on the field, people need the opportunities to develop and shine for their voice to be heard and show what they can do. And the lesson in that is so powerful to me when you talk about what baseball has to offer."

Learn more about the Mariners Care Foundation, or here on Twitter, or Instagram.

Read the Community Impact Report to learn more about how and where the Mariners invest.

Support their work in the community through Mariners auctions.


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