Many American youth dream of pursuing professional sports careers. In what amounts to a series of elimination rounds, one recent SAR High School graduate has made it to the collegiate varsity level. Englewood resident Isaac Spiegel recently completed his freshman season as part of the pitching rotation of the Muhlenberg Mules.
“My father, Alan was also a pitcher as an undergraduate at Brandeis University,” explains Spiegel on how he got involved in the sport. “We always played ball growing up. I started with the Englewood Little League and a summer travelling league which played up and down the East Coast,” describes Spiegel. “I have been playing baseball my entire life.”
Spiegel spent four years on the SAR High School baseball team, including serving as team captain in 2016. While attending SAR, he was recruited by several college scouts. He chose Muhlenberg College, which is under Lutheran auspices, and located in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. Michael Courtney, SAR High School college advisor explained, “I recommended Muhlenberg to Isaac, because it seemed the perfect match for his academic, athletic and religious interests.” Courtney continued, “As a small liberal arts college with an intimate student-faculty relationship, it seemed a terrific fit. Jewish life has always been strong at Muhlenberg and in recent years, the number of observant students has picked up tremendously.” Of 2200 students, almost 30% are Jewish. There is a very active Jewish presence on campus, including Hillel, Chabad and kosher dining facilities. Further, Courtney recounted, “Being able to pitch at Muhlenberg, where they would accommodate Isaac, made it a very strong contender.” Spiegel explained, “The Mules’ head coach, Todd Gross, who is a devout Catholic, offered to accommodate all of my needs. Do whatever you have to do; anything you need, we can accommodate.”
When explaining what arrangements the school makes for him, Spiegel clarifies, “When the team travels off campus overnight for games, the college pays for hotels within walking distance of the ball fields. For games closer to campus, I arrange my own lodging.” Further Spiegel describes, “When participating in the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational Tournament in Auburndale, FL during spring break last March, players’ families insured that my kosher dietary needs were met at all times.” Auburndale is halfway between Tampa and Orlando.
Spiegel made his collegiate pitching debut during that tournament versus the Emerson College Lions. He struck out four over five innings, but the Mules eventually lost 4-3 in extra innings. His final freshman season stats include 12 innings pitched in four games, three of which his team won. He earned one save against the Elizabethtown Blue Jays and had a season ERA of 5.00.
Muhlenberg’s team was 19-20 this season. The Mules made it to the round-robin championship round of their Division III Centennial Conference, losing to both the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays and The Garnet of Swarthmore.
When asked if he felt part of the team he replied, “100%, more than I have ever felt. We all have a great relationship.” Isaac commented that his teammates and coaches are “the best.” In addition to Spiegel, the baseball team roster also includes his observant roommate, Frisch alum Jake Lebovitch, also of Englewood.
Michael Courtney also serves as the SAR High School softball coach. In recounting Spiegel’s ability, he stated, “I always heard that Isaac had real talent and when I saw him pitch, I understood why. I believe I first saw him pitch in his sophomore year and he was overpowering back then.” Courtney continued, “It means the world to have an athlete playing a sport in college while maintaining his Orthodox practices. Isaac has been able to do this for a long time. As a travel-league baseball player, he kept his strict observance, including davening every day, eating kosher food, and honoring Shabbat. His brother Gabriel, a senior at SAR, has been doing the same throughout his high school years. We have numerous college athletes and it’s a treat to learn of their accomplishments as student-athletes beyond SAR. “
As a life-long Yankees fan, Isaac aspires to a career in pinstripes, but has not declared his major, at this time. “I always wanted to play baseball at a higher level,” explains Spiegel. “I want to play to the highest level I can, and I will continue to play until I am told I can’t go any higher.”