By Catherine Hilley | Subscribe to Commodore Nation
Red hair and a freckled face … he’s got to be from the Bahamas, right? For Vanderbilt men’s tennis player, Baker Newman, that’s the case.
Its called dual-citizenship, and as soon as Newman was born his family rushed back to his father’s hometown of Nassau, Bahamas to ensure both he and his older brother could be a part of a culture which means so much to two generations of Newmans.
“When I was born, my dad immediately got us passports to the Bahamas. Basically my grandfather moved there for work, and my dad was born there. So I kind of got lucky.”
Lucky is an understatement, as Baker’s Bahamian citizenship has given him and his brother Spencer an opportunity of a lifetime -- a chance to represent the Bahamas in the 2016 Davis Cup.
However it’s an opportunity Newman never thought he’d have himself. It was always his older brother, Spencer, who competed for the Florida Gators and trained against the best in the nation at the USTA Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, Fla. who got all the acclaim growing up.
“Well actually it’s been in talks for a while to compete for the Bahamas… since we were younger. But even then it was more Spencer, never really me. I remember when he was 15 or 16 and the Davis Cup coach called him and asked if he wanted to play for them, and I was like ‘man I want to do that some day’. It never really crossed my mind that I would.”
Last summer, the Newmans vacationed in Nassau. To stay in shape Baker hit with a local police officer and son of the former president of the Bahamian Federation who knew how to go about getting Backer on board the Bahamas team.
“It was the police officer, Jared Turnqvist, who really pushed us to go down in December to compete in the qualifier. At first he didn’t know I was a dual citizen, so when I told him he was like you have to do it. If I wasn’t Bahamian I couldn’t play for them.”
Over this past winter break, Baker and Spencer traveled to the Bahamas to compete in the Davis Cup qualifier, the Giorgio Baldacci Tennis Tournament at the National Tennis Center, which featured the island’s best players and gave the brothers a glimpse of what they were getting themselves into.
Several players on the Bahamas team are or were collegiate athletes themselves; earning spots on the rosters of the University of Central Florida and Georgia Tech men’s tennis programs.
“When I went to the national training center in the Bahamas I figured it would be pretty nice since, but I’d never been there so I didn’t know. The courts were really nice, they were kept up, but the fences and buildings were falling apart like what a rundown facility here in the United States would look like. And that surprised me, because people like Mark Knowles used to play there, and he’s No. 1 in the world in doubles.”
During the tournament, both Newmans made it all the way to the championship finale, with Baker defeating his brother for the first time ever. But in the trip Baker gained much more than a win over big bro, as he was able to connect to their roots and watch older brother Spencer become to reconnect to a sport and passion he thought he would go back to.
“That win was so awesome. I was always ‘the younger brother’. I’m not saying I didn’t do well, but he was always the better one. He (Spencer) wanted to pro and all that... but he got hurt playing at Florida, and stopped playing tennis for a while. He never took his last year of eligibility; he graduated and said ‘I’m not playing tennis any more.’”
“But he started training up for this Bahamian Davis Cup, and has actually started coaching this kid. And he’s been playing again, and playing pretty well. He beat me in a few practice sets over break. But the tournament in the Bahamas was his first tournament back, he has the excuse that he was hurt, but it still meant a lot to me.”
“I can kind hold it over his head now a little bit (laughing). Because I absolutely beat him, the only reason it went to three sets is because he’s my brother and he got in my head. He knows what ticks me off.”
While Baker and Spencer weren’t playing matches or training they toured around the island meeting people from his family’s past and seeing where his father grew up.
“I actually did an interview with my grandpa two weeks ago for a class and he was telling me about his 15-20 years he spent in the Bahamas… he said he never thought he was going to leave. He built a house down there with his bare hands. I saw that house over the break, and that was just really cool to see.”
“I also met my dad’s care taker when he lived there as a child, she was like his second mom kind of. She has this restaurant now, and all this food she made for him I had when I was there and that was really cool. I had their boiled fish, which is like their trademarked food for breakfast.”
Following the conclusion of the Vanderbilt tennis season, the Newman brothers will meet the rest of their teammates a week prior to the Davis cup in this year’s host site, La Paz, Bolivia. At one of the highest elevations in the world, Baker and his brother are interested as to how the altitude will affect their game, but are just excited to get the chance to play together.
“It’s going to be really cool playing with my brother. We want to play doubles together, you know, Newman and Newman representing the Bahamas… that’s something we’ve always talked about, even when we were younger. It’s always been a dream.”