Spencer Horwitz hasn’t suited up for the Toronto Blue Jays yet. Actually, he hasn’t even been to Toronto yet. But the 25-year-old first baseman and outfielder is already making waves on an international stage: on Mar. 12, 2023, as a rookie member of Team Israel’s roster at the World Baseball Classic, where the Holy Land is the unanimous underdog in a group of Latin American powerhouse teams, Horwitz tied the game in the eighth inning by hitting Israel’s first RBI. That completely swung the game’s momentum, leading to two more runs by Team Israel—and a upset victory for the Jews.
Days before Horwitz’s herculean swing, he joined the Menschwarmers for a friendly interview about his upbringing in Baltimore, why he joined Team Israel and how excited he is to get to Toronto for his first-ever major league game. Plus, Gabe and Jamie catch up on Max Homa’s continued rise to stardom, Lance Stroll’s feat of broken-wrist racing and the (unfortunately) historic game Team Israel played at the WBC after that initial Nicaraguan victory.
Menschwarmers is hosted by James Hirsh and Gabe Pulver, and produced and edited by Michael Fraiman. Our intro music is by Coby Lipovitch, and our outro music is “Organ Grinder Swing” by chēēZ π. This show is a member of The CJN Podcast Network. Follow the Menschwarmers on Twitter @menschwarmers or TikTok @menschwarmers. Support the show by subscribing to this podcast or donating to The CJN.
Interview transcript (automatically generated, excuse any errors)
Menschwarmers: It’s great to see you, Spencer. Team Israel outfielder, Blue Jays infielder, outfielder, imminent, hopefully, major leaguer—ready to see you soon. Where have we found you today, where are you right now?
Spencer Horwitz: Yeah, I’m in Dunedin, Florida. I got a 3:30 flight to Miami to go down to the World Baseball Classic. So, yeah, I’m excited to get down there.
MW: That’s awesome. So right before you’re going to play for Team Israel, if you could tell us a little bit—I guess the answer to this is “yes”, but how are you Jewish?
SH: So my father was raised in a Jewish household. He was bar mitzvah and all my cousins were bar mitzvahed. So I’ve been around the Jewish culture my whole life and I’ve grown to love it and just appreciate it and respect it.
MW: Oh, that’s awesome. I know, as you say, we are a Jewish podcast. You’re talking to an audience of a lot of bar mitzvah people and you’re going to have a lot of fans playing for Team Israel. That’s something we hear a lot. Athletes with Jewish upbringings get a lot of Jewish fans wherever they go. So what does playing for Team Israel—why are you doing it?
SH: I’m doing it because, number one, it’s going to be a great experience. Playing in the World Baseball Classic has been a dream of mine forever. And to be able to represent Israel and my family and where we come from is just an unbelievable experience. I’m really excited to get down there.
MW: That’s awesome. So where did you grow up?
SH: I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland.
MW: Big Jewish community there. Huge, absolutely. And so you were, I guess, a part of it from that aspect. And perhaps you could tell me a little bit of the story. How did you get involved with Team Israel?
SH: So I was in Buffalo, I think it was around end of July, early August, and Team Israel reached out to me and they asked me if I would be interested and I said yes. And then it started the process of seeing if I was eligible. And then around December, they told me I was going to be on the team.
MW: That’s amazing. The other day, actually, Ryan Levarnway was on our show and he told us a story that it was during a game during and at bat, Matt Mervis is up, Lavarnway’s catching, and Matt turns around and goes, hey, do you think you could get me on Team Israel? And then turns back around and keeps hitting. And they made it happen. So it’s awesome they reached out to you because I think the interest is always very mutual.
SH: Absolutely. I think anyone could play in the WBC wants to.
MW: And did you follow the 2017 team at all?
SH: I didn’t follow it when it was happening, but I’ve looked into it since. I’ve been told I’m playing for Israel, and they’ve made a heck of a run, so I’m hoping that we can do that. And I was talking to my agent about it, and he was all in on me going—he’s like, Israel is a team of destiny. You got to do it. I’m like, perfect, I’m in.
MW: That’s amazing. Is your agent Jewish, by any chance? That’s awesome. So what are you looking forward to most? Are there any players you’re looking forward to meeting? Anybody you’re looking to playing with? Like what? Let’s talk about the baseball a little bit.
SH: Yeah, I’m excited just to be able to compete in that kind of environment. It’ll be the first time I played in a major league stadium. First time I’ve played with any of these guys. So I’m just excited to meet these guys. And Joc [Pederson] seems like he’s going to be the captain, the leader, and he’s got us all fired up in the group, saying, awesome, we’re going to get out there, kick some ass, and we’re all excited about it.
MW: That’s amazing. So again, you’ve had, obviously, you’re a prospect. You’re looking to make the majors soon, and then all of a sudden, sort of thanks to your Jewish upbringing, your Jewish connection, you’re facing Sandy Alcántara in a stadium with 50,000 people, almost like you blinked and it’s there.
SH: Yeah. I don’t really know what to expect, but I’m excited. It’s going to be an exciting experience, and I’m just going to take it for what it is and try and grow from it and learn from it and just appreciate every second of it.
MW: That’s awesome. So let’s talk about Toronto for a couple of minutes. Just because the Blue Jays drafted you, I guess it’s been four years ago now. You know what what do you know about the city? Have you ever been you excited to come?
SH: Yeah. Never been to Toronto. I hear it’s great.
MW: You have a passport? You’re going to need a passport.
SH: I got a passport. I lived in Vancouver in 2019, so I got my passport for that. But no, I’m excited. Never been to Toronto. Like I said, everyone speaks really highly of the city and says how amazing it is and how they never leave once they go. But I hope one day I can experience it.
MW: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I promise you, you’ve got at least one seder invitation coming out of this interview. Come Passover. Although I think the Jays are on the road during Passover. I think the Bisons are, too. But for what it’s worth, you got at least one coming next year. If it is. So that’s exciting. Toronto is a big city. Growing up in Baltimore, you’re going to get a lot of the same diversity and I’m going to say pride in living here, Baltimore, people love being from Baltimore.
MW: People love being from Toronto as well. What are some of the places you’ve played so far and what have you enjoyed and have you found any communities there?
SH: Yeah, first drafted, I got sent to Bluefield, Virginia, which many people have never heard of, being one of them. Yeah, it’s like Southwest Virginia. It’s actually right near where I went to college, at Radford, so I felt at home. It’s more mountainous terrain, not much, a little slower. And I loved it. It was out in nature and it was great. And then flew up to the opposite end of the country, or not even the country. Went up to Vancouver, and that was the polar opposite of Bluefield. And Vancouver was in a live city, and I absolutely loved it there. People were so friendly. The food was amazing. I wish I got to spend more time there. And then 2020 happened. No season. So I was in Baltimore the whole time.
MW: And if you don’t mind me interrupting, what do you do? Like, you don’t necessarily have a major league paycheck to rely on. College is done. How did you spend that year?
SH: College wasn’t done for me. I took some classes online during that, so that was a blessing in disguise that I could do that. And I’m lucky enough still. I was living with my mom, so I had a free place to stay. Paychecks weren’t coming in. Yeah, I just coached a little bit, worked out. Luckily, I got in the best shape of my life, and that prepared me for 2021, which some people call it my breakout year or whatever.
MW: Yeah, the minor-league bar mitzvah. The bar mitzvah growing into a baseball player, you know.
SH: Exactly. Bar mitzvah, yeah. And so in 2021, I was in Hillsboro, Oregon, because of COVID again. I was supposed to be in Vancouver because I switched Vancouver from short season to High-A, but Canada wouldn’t let us in due to COVID. So we were in Hillsboro, Oregon, spent the season there. Oregon was beautiful. Just the nature out there was unbelievable. Some of the best scenery I’ve ever seen. And then 2022, I started the year in New Hampshire. New Hampshire was a very, what’s the word? Blue collar. Blue collar city. Hardworking. It was cold, but no.
MW: Yeah, that hurts your hands when you’re swimming.
SH: Yeah, it was cold. Going from Florida to New Hampshire. It was cold. And then yeah, the summers in June, it got beautiful. And then second half of the season, I was obviously in Buffalo, and Buffalo—it was a lot more of city life than New Hampshire. And yeah, great restaurants, great coffee shops. Got to go to Niagara Falls. It was a great experience up there.
MW: Yeah, I really like Buffalo. We live close. I feel like Toronto and Buffalo always have a thing with the minor league teams and the Bills and all that. Let’s get back a little bit. Were you aware of other Jewish athletes when you were a kid? Did you always want to be an athlete and did being Jewish come into your play at all?
SH: Yeah, I always wanted to be an athlete. Sports were always a big prevalent point in my life, and especially with my dad. He’s a big sports guy, always has been. Baseball, football, golf, everything. He obviously introduced me and my brother to sports our whole life, and we always around it and then just being around the Jewish culture, I wasn’t actually too familiar with Jewish athletes. But yeah, I mean, it’s an honor to be able to represent them.
MW: It’s funny, the athlete we get asked about the most is Shawn Green. People ask us like, have you met Shawn Green? When’s Shawn Green going to be on the show? And people always say, oh, yeah, I loved Shawn Green as a kid. Doesn’t mean it matter if they were athlete. I guess if you’re in Toronto or LA, you know about Shawn, but I don’t know if Baltimore had many Jewish sports icons growing up. Maybe you could be the guy.
SH: Yeah, none off the top of my head.
MW: Yeah, maybe you could be the next one. It’s interesting to hear. And then, how’s your spring going? That’s sort of like the other thing. What are you working on now? What are your goals? Like, are you having fun? Probably the most important question. Are you having fun?
SH: Yeah. People forget sports are supposed to be fun. But no, it’s been great. This is my first big league camp, and I’ve enjoyed it so much working with Don Mattingly every day and working with Vladdy at first base and in the outfield next to George Springer. Like, it’s been a great experience, and they’ve all been extremely welcoming and helpful. And I’m so grateful to be with this organization that cares about the players so much, and they really make an investment in the players, and I’m excited to see what’s coming up.
MW: That’s awesome. We’ve had a couple of the broadcasters on. We’re going to get [Mark] Shapiro on this show one day. He’s on the list. It’s going to happen. So we’ll keep you posted for when that happens and you could maybe get some insights into the internal politics, a little bit of the team. Something we talked about, actually with Ryan last week, is that you guys are—I don’t want to say every, but like for most Jewish kids, sports fans, you are the fantasy. Like, what if all of the Jewish players got together? Doesn’t matter where they’re from, they just got together and played, you know, would you guys be competitive? And yes, the answer is yes. Definitely you guys. And you know, what would it look like? What if somebody like Joc Pederson picks Israel over America? That’s so cool. What’s that going to look like? The Jays have had a lot of Jewish players that have been fans of Rowdy Telez just before, and Kevin Pillar before that, and the community tends to really rally around those guys and they’re going to do that anywhere you go. I should have asked this earlier, it’s my bad, I skipped it on the page. But in the minors, did people ever ask you if you were Jewish? Did it ever come up?
SH: Yeah, having the last name Horwitz, a lot of people they do ask, but yeah, that’s normally all the conversation is just like, are you Jewish? And I’m like, yeah. And then a lot of people will be like, oh, that’s cool. That’s pretty much it. It’s nothing. Normally it doesn’t go any further than that, but yeah, a lot of people do ask.
MW: Do you find it’s more Jewish people or non Jewish people that ask? Maybe that’s a personal question.
SH: But no, you’re fine. I’d say more non-Jewish people. They just don’t know and they’re just curious and typically what it is.
MW: A Jewish pro athlete in rural Oregon seems like a bit of an oddity.
SH: Yeah, definitely. It’s definitely not the most common thing, I guess.
MW: Yeah, I think it’s super-cool. Obviously, that’s why we have this show. So, again, I wish you the best of luck both in the rest of spring training. Hopefully we’ll see you and chat again when you get to Toronto. Thank you so much, Spencer, and we’ll speak to you soon.