Pitcher Mitch Harris graduated from the US Naval Academy in 2008 and got drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals. The Navy denied a waiver that would allow him to delay his service commitment to purse professional sports, so baseball had to wait. Mitch spent the next five years fulfilling his service obligation, criss-crossing the globe with service aboard the USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf, participating in drug stings in South America and on diplomatic assignment in Russia.
The odds that Mitch Harris would ever have a shot at a sports career declined every month he was away from the game, but the Cards let him have another shot two years ago in their minor league system. Harris fought his way through the minor league system and this week St. Louis called him up to the major league club. He’ll be on the roster for Tuesday’s series opener with the Washington Nationals tonight in DC.
How big an accomplishment is this? When Harris throws this first pitch, he’ll be only the second Naval Academy graduate to pitch in the major leagues and the first guy did it 94 years ago. Nemo Gaines did get a waiver from the Navy and pitched in four games for the Washington Senators in 1921 before returning to the Navy for a 25-year career. The Pentagon should take note: Nemo got the chance to get baseball out of his system and the Navy got a 25-year return its education investment. Some pencil pusher insisted that Mitch shouldn’t get the same opportunity and he was out the door after five years.
Harris was called up because Cardinals outfielder Peter Bourjos is out on paternity leave. Since he’s a pitcher replacing a position player, it’s not likely there will be a roster spot for Mitch once Bourjos returns to the club. Still, he’s got a shot to make an impression and the season is long. There will be other chances to return to the major-league squad if he doesn’t stick this time.
Even if Mitch Harris only gets the proverbial cup of coffee in The Show, it’s an amazing accomplishment to make a big league club after a five-year layoff. Tune in this week to see his debut if you can see the games.