Isaac Pavlik wore the number 7 with the New Jersey Jackals, which was retired by the independent baseball franchise last Thursday. He is now only one of five players to have his number retired by the organization, including Hall of Fame member Yogi Berra. What is more remarkable about the former Seton Hall pitcher is that his jersey number is almost equal to the number of people he graduated with in high school.
In a class of just 12 students, Pavlik never enjoyed the compact environment of Collegiate School in Passaic, New Jersey. The limited population of students hampered the ability to play baseball, but Pavlik was able to solve his own problem in his quest to carve out a life in baseball.
While attending Collegiate School, Pavlik helped construct the baseball program, barely fielding nine players to secure a roster. Despite being able to perform at the high school level, Pavlik knew his stats would not be respected by colleges due to the level competition. To combat this, Pavlik would send out his summer league statistics to universities while also attending multiple camps. Eventually, Pavlik would attend a Seton Hall camp to be recruited as a walk-on outfielder.
In his freshman season with the Pirates, Pavlik’s throwing abilities prompted legendary pitching coach Phil Cundari to transition him to pitcher. With guidance from Cundari, Pavlik became one of the best relief pitchers in program history.
After a full year of coming out of the bullpen, Pavlik’s junior season, the program had the goal of a Big East Championship after falling in the finals a year prior. Yet, early in the season, the championship mentality was not discovered until head coach Rob Sheppard literally ran his team into the ground, as Sheppard made Pavlik and the Pirates run 35 sprints instead of their normal eight to 10 after a game for not putting their best effort into a game.
“It was that moment that we always go back to that it clicked, and it took off from there,” Pavlik said.
Seton Hall would go on to win the conference championship during the season, an event Pavlik called his “most special” as an athlete. He was also awarded Big East Championship Most Outstanding Player. The first-team All-Big East lefty thought he would be drafted after a successful junior season.
“I had a couple of teams contact me the day of the draft to know I was being picked. That was my first taste as being a 21-year-old, experiencing heartbreak like that where your dream may never come true. In my senior year, I was very up to the fact that I might not play professional baseball and that this ‘might be it’,” Pavlik said.
After finishing another strong year as a senior, Pavlik ended his collegiate career as the all-time saves leader for the program while recording a 3.23 ERA with 181 strikeouts in 158.2 innings pitched. He was selected by the Rockies in the 10th round of the 2002 MLB Draft.
Although he never made it to the majors with the Rockies and later the Cubs and Padres, Pavlik wrote himself into the history books of the New Jersey Jackals.
Pavlik signed with New Jersey in 2005 and went on to play 13 seasons for the organization to become the longest-tenured Jackal in franchise history. He grabbed multiple records in the Can-Am league including most wins, innings pitched, strikeouts, games started, and games pitched.
With all his records professionally, Pavlik will always cherish the moments of playing in South Orange.
“Going to school every day, said Pavlik. Going to practice every day, hanging out with my college friends, knowing I was playing for Seton Hall University with the tradition of Bob Sheppard and Rob Sheppard, being a part of that whole family was something very special to me,” Pavlik said.
Robert Fallo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Find him on Twitter @robert_fallo.