Former Tiger Speigner Living Big League Dream

Former Auburn pitcher Levale Speigner will be on the roster for the Washington Nationals in Monday's season opener against the Florida Marlins.

Washington, D.C.--Baseball has always been known as "America's Pastime" and is one of the favorite summer passions for fans from coast to coast in the U.S.

For former Auburn pitcher Levale Speigner, his favorite baseball memory may be one that occurred in December that led him to where he is now, on the opening day roster for the Washington Nationals.

A solid pitcher his first four years in the Minnesota Twins organization with a combined ERA under 4.00 after compiling a record of 28-13 at Auburn, including a 10-0 mark his senior year, Speigner was put up for the Rule 5 draft because he was not on the 40-man roster for the club heading into 2007. That turned out the be an early Christmas present for the Thomasville, Ga., native as the Nationals immediately snatched him up with the hopes that he could become the middle reliever they have been hoping to find.

Speigner says at the time he knew it could be his big shot to make it to the major leagues and a strong start in spring training got him off on the right foot.

"I was actually coming back from working at UPS," Speigner says of when he found out the news. "I worked at UPS in Opelika loading during the peak season. One of my buddies actually called me and he had gotten Rule 5 drafted, too. He called me and let me know that I had been Rule 5 drafted as well. It caught me totally by surprise.

Once he got the news, Speigner says he was excited because he knew what that could possibly mean for his career. As a Rule 5 pick, Speigner would have to make the major league roster for the entire next season or be offered back to the Twins. He says because of that, he knew his chances would come this spring on the mound and he wanted to make the most of them.

"It's awesome," Speigner says. "I certainly didn't expect to be Rule 5 drafted this year so that was a surprise in itself. The way I started pitching well in spring training was a surprise too, but it was awesome because I got to find out real quick how I stacked up with big league hitters.

"I really felt going in, because I was Rule 5 drafted and I had to either stay or go, that I would get to see big league hitters. I certainly did, so it was good to start out the way I did."

Speigner prepares to deliver to the plate during a spring training contest.

His first action of the spring came in a game against the Baltimore Orioles. In that game, Speigner came out of the bullpen to face catcher Ramon Hernandez. While he eventually gave up a single to Hernandez, by the time the day was over Speigner had done well against a lineup that included Melvin Moira, Miguel Tejada and Aubrey Huff. In three and two/thirds innings, Speigner allowed three hits and no runs. From that point forward he was off and running, but he says the first day was the toughest without a doubt.

"I was nervous, really nervous," Speigner says. "The first time I came in against the Orioles, I came in with two runners on against their starting lineup. Their catcher Hernandez was the first guy I faced. He got a hit to right, but they didn't end up scoring. The bases were loaded, but the next guy, (Jay Gibbons), hit a line drive to first. That got me out of that inning. After that I settled down a lot.

"Being able to pitch to their big league guys, all of the guys in their lineup that are going to be playing day in and day out...," he adds, "I faced those guys my first time out. Having that success gave me confidence and helped me realize I could pitch to big league hitters. It showed me I could go out and be successful."

Working as a long reliever for the Nationals after spending just one season as a starter in the Twins' organization, Speigner worked his scoreless inning streak to over 13 innings in spring practice before giving up four earned runs in a loss to Detroit near the end of spring practice. By that time, Speigner had clearly shown he belonged with the big boys.

When the final 25-man roster was set on Saturday afternoon, all the hard work Speigner had put in during his youth and years at Auburn paid off as he's on the roster for Washington's opening day game against the Florida Marlins on Monday. He says it's hard to imagine how far he's come in his baseball career but he's fortunate to be living a dream.

"It really started setting in the other night when we drove in to D.C. that I was finally in the big leagues," Speigner says. "You realize this is the city you're going to be playing in. Just the history of Washington, D.C. and being able to play in the nation's capital is awesome. It's just a great feeling."

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