June 13, 2008
Meet Mitch Harris. After a college career that saw him win 20 games and average almost 12 strikeouts per nine innings, he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 13th round of last week's draft.
So the next stop is the minor leagues and then the majors, right?
Not quite. Harris threw his 94 MPH fastball while playing for Navy's baseball team, which means he now has to fulfill the five-year service obligation that's required of every midshipman.
On Thursday, the Navy has made it clear that no exceptions will be made for Harris, who might have been drafted in the third or fourth round if his availability to play had been more certain.
Harris had said he was hoping to work around the service requirement or simply delay it for a few years while waiting to see if his baseball dreams panned out.
Through a spokesman, Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter ruled out (the) possibility.
“We are a nation at war, and we believe it’s inappropriate to allow Navy and Marine Corps personnel to be released from service obligations to play professional sports at the same time that other sailors and marines are carrying out their service obligations,” Lt. Karen Eifert, a Navy spokesman in Washington, said Thursday.
Eifert, who contacted The Virginian-Pilot on Thursday to make clear Winter’s position, said the Navy would not support any request to be stationed near a particular professional team or to be allowed to travel with that team.
Thing is, if Harris had pitched for Army, things might have turned out better. West Point features a recently implemented Alternative Service Option, which has allowed cadet Caleb Campbell to pursue a career in the NFL after being drafted by the Detroit Lions in April. Campbell currently serves as a part-time recruiter on his off days and can buy out the last three years of his active duty commitment by agreeing to six years of duty in the Army Reserves.
But, of course, Harris belongs to the Navy and the rules are the rules. While part of me wants to say that the Navy would be helped a lot publicity-wise if Harris became a star — anyone remember Roger Staubach? — I also realize that many other Navy students are passing up lucrative careers to fulfill the service they agreed to complete when they arrived in Annapolis. Why should a baseball player be any different?
What do you think? Should an exception be made?
A big BLS head nod goes to The Sporting Blog for the tip.