Outfielder Leads with Enthusiasm and Faith
Issue   |   Thu, 05/18/2017 - 20:13
Anthony Spina '17
In his four years at Amherst, Spina, a math major, has dedicated himself to leadership in baseball and the Christian Fellowship.

Anthony Spina inspires enthusiasm in everyone that he meets. In the classroom, Spina brings an earnestness that professors and classmates alike find magnetic. On the baseball diamond, he brings lightning-quick bat speed and an equally quick ability to put his teammates at ease in the clubhouse. In Amherst Christian Fellowship (ACF), he speaks and reads with a presence and wisdom that belie his youth. This enthusiasm is simply a mirror image of his own approach to life.

When we sat in Val and I met Spina for the first time, I was struck by how greatly his enthusiasm for Amherst and his faith have influenced him. His advisor, Professor of Mathematics Gregory Call, agrees. “I know Anthony will do well,” he wrote. “Most importantly, I know he’ll strive to make a positive difference for all with whom he works.”

Brooklyn to Amherst

When Anthony Spina arrived at Amherst as a first-year, one of his first thoughts was, “This place is enormous” — not the typical reaction to a college of 1,800 students. Spina graduated from a class of 17 students in middle school and 51 in high school, making his entering class of 466 at Amherst seem gigantic. Since arriving as a first year, the Brooklyn, New York native has developed into a leader on Amherst Christian Fellowship, on the baseball team and in the classroom.

The youngest of four, Spina stayed in Brooklyn for middle school and high school, attending Gateway City Academy, a Christian school, and Berkeley Carroll prep school afterwards, where he played soccer, basketball and baseball.

In his junior year of high school, Spina knew he wanted to play baseball in college and set his sights on Division I.

During his junior year, he attended the Headfirst Baseball Showcase, which is marketed for baseball players of high academic standing. At the showcase, Coach Brian Hamm, who was his dugout coach, started to tell him about Amherst, but Spina was not really interested. After the showcase, Hamm sent a follow-up email. Spina and his family researched Amherst and “were astonished” by Amherst and its opportunities.

“God really closed doors in different directions, but opened the door of Amherst College,” Spina said. “The combination of academics and athletics really led to me wanting to be here.”

When he came up to Amherst to do his overnight visit, he was sure he was going to attend Amherst if he was admitted, but stepping on campus solidified his desire to wear the purple and white.

After being admitted early decision, Spina said he was “a little naïve, and had no idea what to expect” upon entering Amherst. Living in Stearns, Spina initially struggled to adjust to living on a floor with other people and having a roommate.

His roommate was Denison Marsland-Rello, the son of Amherst’s Director of Sports Medicine and Senior Women’s Administrator Maria Rello. Spina’s friendship with Rello had a positive impact on his time at Amherst and his adjustment, calling her “like a second mom” who “made my transition to college much easier.”

Faith and Mathematics

One of Spina’s first friends at Amherst was Josh Jiang, who lived on his floor in Stearns. When Spina attended his first ACF event, Jiang was there, so they immediately shared more than one connection.

Spina knew he wanted to be a part of the Christian community at Amherst. Although he had doubts as a first year, “the reason I kept going were upperclassmen who kept reaching out to me to get lunch and catch up.”

Spina feels that he was “grafted in [to Amherst Christian Fellowship]. I love that image of being sewn in and being part of that, I feel that’s so beautiful, with it being a big part of my life, and with people making an effort to make you feel valued and important.”

On his floor in Stearns, there were four or five other Christians, and around fifteen in the dorm, and Spina is still friends with many of them. His friend Kathryn McHenry ’17 also lived in Stearns and has been a member of Amherst Christian Fellowship with him all four years.

“When Anthony leads a Bible study or gives a sermon, it’s like listening to an entirely different person,” said McHenry. “He speaks with the confidence, clarity, love and insight of someone who’s been preaching for years.”

As he entered Amherst, Spina knew he was interested in STEM, so he took a lot of quantitative classes. He took “Introduction to Calculus” his first fall semester. Professor Steve Olow, who is no longer at Amherst, taught the class, and he had a different style of lectures that Spina found intriguing.

Later, Spina learned that Professor Olow attended the same church that he did in town, and he found their shared faith incredible.

“I never had a relationship like that with a professor, which was awesome,” Spina said.

One Sunday, Olow gave a sermon, and Spina remarked that he spoke in “the exact same way he gives a math lecture.” This further drew him to faith and mathematics, as Olow had combined two of his passions.

In the summer after Spina’s first year at Amherst, as he was considering majoring in mathematics, the baseball team traveled to Japan as part of a cultural exchange trip. On the trip, the team was able to spend time at Doshisha University, Amherst’s sister school in Japan. Call — now Spina’s advisor — traveled with the team to Japan, and the trip introduced the two and played a key role in forging their relationship, according to both Spina and Call.

“Soon thereafter, Anthony declared a math major and I became his advisor,” Call wrote. “A strong math student and a fine player, Anthony has consistently impressed me.”

In the Outfield

When Spina arrived as a first-year student, he said he felt like he was immediately “ingrained in that family” of the baseball team. He was “really competitive, and baseball was everything to me. I did everything I could to get better, and I still do that, but my identity is less rooted in just baseball. Now baseball is a part of my identity.”

For most of his high school career, Spina played in the infield, but he shifted to outfield as a senior in high school and in college. In his first two years at Amherst, the baseball team was incredibly successful, reaching the NCAA Division III Baseball Tournament both years. In Spina’s first-ever start, his teammate threw a no-hitter, and Hamm earned his 100th career win. To this day, his first game with the Amherst team is his favorite college baseball memory.

Spina says that his relationship with Hamm “has been so amazing with the care he’s had for this program, but seeing how he has been a leader for the team and someone we can rally around has been great.” Most of all, Spina has loved descending Memorial Hill after a hard day of classes and relaxing by focusing on the sport.

As a sophomore, Spina saw limited playing time but followed it up with a standout junior year in which he earned Second Team All-NESCAC and NESCAC Player of the Week honors. In 2016, Spina hit six home runs and was genuinely surprised by the success he has had on the baseball field. When asked how he earned the two honors, he said, “I don’t know where this came from!”

His hard work and commitment have made him an asset to the team as both a hitter and a dugout presence. Hamm called him “one of the most electric baseball players that I have had the privilege of coaching. He swings the bat as well, if not better, as our hitters who went on to play professional baseball. Anthony’s swing is so explosive and powerful that it makes him an exciting player to watch.”

After Amherst

As Spina applied for jobs in the fall for after graduation, he found himself deciding between a finance company in New York City and InterVarsity, the national organization with which Amherst Christian Fellowship is affiliated, where he would be pursuing Christian ministry. The senior didn’t tell his parents that he was applying to work for InterVarsity, and once he was offered the position, he had a difficult decision to make.

With his finance position in New York, Spina would be making a solid salary and living near home. With InterVarsity, Spina would have to raise his own salary by reaching out to members of his Christian community to support him. In December, he talked to Hamm on the phone for more than an hour about the decision he had to make. With Hamm’s help and prayer, Spina decided to work for InterVarsity.

“[I] knew that God wanted me to talk to people about Jesus,” Spina said.

For the next three years, Spina will be working for InterVarsity at UMass Amherst and living in the area with David Ruth ’17, who holds the same position at Hampshire College.

Grant Geddie ’17, his roommate of three years, said, “Anthony pours everything he has into his family, friends, school, work and baseball. I don’t think he will be able to afford a fancy car, [but] I know he will be just fine with that, because he will be doing what he loves most: namely, sharing his hope and passion for Jesus Christ.”

“Selfishly, I am excited that Anthony will be in Amherst next year, because his enthusiasm for life is so contagious that he makes me a better person,” Hamm said. “Our motto, ‘Terras Irradient,’ can come across as cliché, but not in Anthony’s case. He truly brings light into the worlds of all who know him.”

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