Mitch Harris is a 29-year-old rookie relief pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals. Normally, when you hear of a rookie that old, they spent a good while hustling in the minor leagues before being called up due to an injury. These guys don’t normally last long in the majors. Mitch Harris is different, though. Mitch Harris spent five years serving his country as a weapons officer during two tours.
Harris wasn’t highly recruited out of high school. Only a handful of Division III teams had shown interest in the 175-pound pitcher out of Belmont, N.C. That all changed when Buddy Green, who was the Naval Academy’s defensive coordinator at the time, spotted him throwing a bullpen sesh and asked him if he ever thought about going to the Naval Academy. After visiting Annapolis and being promised a chance to pitch on the team, he knew he was one step closer to his childhood dream of playing baseball professionally.
While at the Naval Academy, Harris set the school record his sophomore for most strikeouts in a season with 113. Once his Sophomore season had ended, he had to decide between pursuing his MLB dreams or sign up for seven more years with the Navy. He knew what he had to do, and committed to the seven years, which included five years as a commissioned officer.
From USA Today:
“This was something I committed to,” Harris said, “and it something that was much bigger than me.”
Over the next two years, the number of scouts at his games grew. More teams became interested in the young pitcher who was becoming a solid pitcher, with a fastball that sat around 94. Despite his commitment to the Navy, the St. Louis Cardinals drafted Harris in the 13th round of the 2008 draft. The Cardinals were hoping that the Navy would grant Harris special permission to shorten his commitment. The Cardinals assistant GM at the time, John Abbamondi, had served nine years in the Navy and would write letters seeking Harris’ early behalf. Unfortunately, with the country in the midst of a war, the Navy would not let him shorten his term.
We were in position to help him navigate through the appeal process,” Abbamondi said, “under the theory that he was a special athlete, and the publicity and the PR impact of that was in the military’s interest as well. There was a lot of bureaucratic stuff to go through, but with the nation at war, those requests were denied.
“He respected that, and never once complained. He never had any thoughts about not serving his country or doing what was required.”
Abbamondi assured him that Cardinals would be waiting when he got out. He spent the next four and a half years tossing the ball on Naval ships with one of the cooks to stay active. Finally, in January 2013, Harris was granted permission to serve the last four months of his commitment in the reserves. The Cardinals welcomed Harris with open arms and assigned them to their short-season A team. Harris quickly found out that his fastball had dropped into the low 80s.
Through his hard work and perseverance, he worked his ass off to get his arm strength back. Last season, he flew through three levels of the minors and finished the season in AAA. He opened the 2015 campaign with an invite to the Cardinals major league spring training camp. He would be assigned to AAA once more to start the season. Two weeks later, he was called up and struck out Adam Lind in his debut.
Thank you for your service, Mitch. I’ll be rooting for you this season. Only you, though. Not your team..
[via USA Today]