FAIRFIELD — Banking or baseball?
Nathan Mittag of Fairfield nearly had to make that choice — between a job offer with a Manhattan investment bank and an offer to play baseball with the Raanana Express of the newly formed Israel Baseball League.
Mittag, a recent graduate with honors from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania where he majored in economics, was supposed to start his job with the firm of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods (KBW) just after July 4, but he didnt want to let the opportunity to play professional baseball in Israel this summer pass him by.
Mittag asked his new boss at the bank for a two month deferment of his start date and waited nervously for the reply.
The boss said I can play! announced the relieved right-handed pitcher.
Mittags journey to the IBL began in the Flatbush/Marine Park neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Mittag spent the first ten years of his life attending public school and Hebrew school and playing sports near his East 18th Street and Kings Highway home.
I played on travel baseball teams where I played shortstop and pitched, he said.
When Nathan was 10, his father, Barry, a math professor, received an offer to teach at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. The family relocated to Fairfield. Now, Professor Mittag is the head of the graduate program at Western Connecticut State University, and mother Susan is executive director of Congregation Beth El in Fairfield. Sister Rachel, four years younger than Nathan, will attend Southern Connecticut State University in the fall. Nathan celebrated his bar mitzvah at Congregation Bnai Israel in Bridgeport, and the family currently belongs to Congregation Beth El in Fairfield.
At Fairfield High School (at the time, it was called Fairfield High; now, there are two schools-Fairfield Ward and Fairfield Ludlow), Mittag played on both the basketball and the baseball teams all four years. He even made the varsity squad as a freshman.
We won the State Championship my junior year – and I had three wins in the state championship, he noted.
This was a turning point for Mittag.
This was a big deal for me. At the beginning of the season, I wasnt getting much playing time. Then, after the three wins and the championship, colleges began contacting me.
Mittag faced a difficult decision when various Division I and Division 3 colleges, including Yale, Williams, Wesleyan, UConn, Lehigh and Bucknell expressed interest in him.
I realized I could use baseball, and grades and SATs to look at the best schools. And I knew I wanted to play for a Division 1 school. Bucknell sold itself. I loved it. I had an absolutely great experience, he said.
During his college summers, he played in various summer leagues including the prestigious Cape Cod Amateur League, a Newport, Rhode Island league, and for the Outer Bank Dare Devils in North Carolina. In Mittags freshman year, he was mainly a closer, pitching 38 innings. He then moved to the starting rotation. In Mittags four years at Bucknell, he threw more than 200 innings.
When they announced that at Senior Day, I started to feel my arm to see if it was still there!
In Nathans senior year, his coach forwarded an email from two representatives of the Israel Baseball League — Martin Berger, a Miami trial lawyer, president and chief operating officer of the IBL and Dan Duquette, former General Manager of the Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos and the IBLs director of Baseball Operations.
I was invited to attend tryouts in Miami, but I didnt go. I had just gotten a job offer, and I couldnt afford the airfare, he recalled.
So Mittag was shocked and pleased when he received an offer to play – without even trying out.
I spoke with them and it was for real – I had questions about the living arrangement, the salary, and other things.
But Mittags biggest issue was his commitment to his job at the bank. He had already agreed to an early July start date, two weeks after the IBLs June 24th inaugural game.
Mittag was overjoyed when KBW agreed to let him play. Mittag, 62 and 190 pounds, who while at Bucknell was an active member of Hillel, said he is excited to be able to spend two months in Israel.
My family are Zionists, but I have never been to Israel before, he said. I always wanted to go on birthright israel, but the dates never worked out with my baseball schedule. I am so excited to see life in Israel and to be surrounded by Jewish people. I cant wait to see the Wall. And I have heard such great things about Tel Aviv.
The opening day of the Israel Baseball League is June 24. At the outset, the league will comprise six teams: the Bet Shemesh Blue Sox, the Modi’in Miracle, the Netanya Tigers, the Petach Tikva Pioneers, the Ra’anana Express, and the Tel Aviv Lightning.
For more information, visit http://www.israelbaseballleague.com