• First Naval Academy grad in 94 years appears in MLB game

    It’s been seven years from the time Mitch Harris graduated from the United States Naval Academy and a little over two years since he finished his five years of service in the U.S. Navy. But now Harris has made his way as a major league baseball player.

    Harris pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings in the St. Louis Cardinals’ 5-3 victory over Milwaukee. He struck out the first batter he faced, Adam Lind, and worked around a couple of singles and walks in his major league debut.

    The Cardinals drafted the right-handed pitcher in the 13th round of the 2008 draft knowing that he would have to fulfill his commit to the U.S. Navy before he could join the organization. But, now that he has met his requirements, the Naval lieutenant, who went on three deployments, can finally play baseball.

    Harris is the first Naval Academy graduate in 94 years to make an appearance in a major league baseball game since relief pitcher Nemo Gaines, who appeared in four games with the Washington Senators in 1921. Counting the minor leagues, Harris is one of nine Annapolis graduates to play baseball at a professional level.

    "It's nice to finally say that the dream has begun to come true," Harris said to ESPN. "Obviously just making it is part of it, but staying is the better half."

    Although Harris was sailing around the world serving his country for five years, he still found time to focus on baseball. Harris knew that he would have to keep his game and arm in check, even on boat, in order to keep his dream alive. His throwing partner was a cook from the Dominican Republic who was the only person on the ship who grew up around baseball.

    “I threw on the flight deck when we could, depending on how the seas were, but it wasn’t often,” Harris told the Washington Post. “Depending on what type operations we were doing, or if I had watch, if I could do it or not. So we would if we had the opportunity.”

    Harris won’t be an ordinary rookie for the Cardinals. He is 29 years old and his fastest pitch was only thrown around 80 mph when he reported to his first spring training. That only motivated Harris to get better in order to achieve his goal.

    "If you tell yourself you're not going to be able to do it, you're setting yourself up for failure. So I told myself the whole time that there was going to be a time where I was going to get a chance to do this," Harris said. "And that was the best way to go about it. I'm human. There's definitely days where I thought there's no shot, no chance I was going to do this. But here we are."

    Harris improvement over the offseason was obvious. He impressed many with his cutter, split-finger fastball and breaking ball and his pitch speed even hit the low-90s. He had a 1.86 ERA in eight appearances in this year for the Cardinals in spring training and posted two saves and a 2.45 ERA for Triple-A Memphis.

    Harris now serves as a rare example to many that both a career in professional sports and the military are possible.

  • NHL Playoffs: 5 things to take away from round one

    After one round of the NHL Playoffs, here are five things learned as the second round gets underway. 

    1) New York needs more offense in round two 

    The New York Rangers are a popular pick to be the last team standing at the end of the daunting NHL Playoffs. They did everything you’d expect from a Stanley Cup favorite in the regular season. They were third in both goals scored and goals against rankings, which ultimately led to their third Presidents’ Trophy victory in franchise history. In five playoff games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, however, the Rangers’ overall play significantly diminished in quality. New York scored only 11 goals and went a dismal 3-for-20 on the power play, all of which are serious concerns for the Rangers, who are set to take on the Washington Capitals in Round 2. The lone bright spot for the Eastern Conference’s top seed was goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s evolution into playoff form. Rightfully referred to by the New York faithful as “King Henrik”, the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner posted a 1.54 Goals Against Average and a .939 save percentage against the Pens. If the King continues to stymie opposing offenses and the Rangers’ own offense addresses their woes, then New York will pose legitimate concerns for opponents moving forward.  

    2) Chicago’s depth proved to be the difference

    From double overtime in Game 1 to triple overtime in Game 4, the Chicago Blackhawks seemed to outlast the Nashville Predators by using experience to their advantage. While the Predators scored more goals in the series than the Blackhawks, winning that battle 21-19, Chicago was able to score major series-altering goals including two overtime winners from two different defensemen, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Blackhawks Captain Jonathan Toews led the team with 8 points in the series, and four other ‘Hawks had 5 points or more. Offensively, depth has always been a strong suit in the playoffs for Chicago. This year, depth in the net-minding position may have tilted the series in their favor. After surrendering three goals on 12 shots in Game 1, starter Corey Crawford was pulled and relieved by Scott Darling, who stopping 42 shots and surrendered no goals in a double OT win. In Game 2, Coach Joel Quenneville went back to Crawford, and the result was a 6-2 loss. Darling then started Games 3-6, but after only stopping 33 of 40 shots in the last two games, Darling lost the job, and Crawford stopped the last 13 shots the Predators took in the series. Quenneville has stated that Crawford will get the start in Game 1 against the Minnesota Wild, but the goalie carousel will continue in Chicago unless Crawford plays the way he did in 2013 when the Blackhawks hoisted The Cup.

    3) St. Louis has the playoff blues

    Despite tying the Anaheim Ducks for the most points in the Western Conference, the St. Louis Blues were dispatched in the first round of the playoffs for the third consecutive season. St. Louis has the talent to not only get out of the conference quarterfinals but also contend for a Stanley Cup Championship. Vladimir Tarasenko headlines the star-studded lineup, and he played rather well in the series against the Minnesota Wild, finding the back of the net six times. Goal scoring as a team, however, plagued the Blues as they totaled only 14 goals in six games. Captain David Backes and free agent pickup Paul Stasny contributed a mere one goal each. Lower than expected production was a result of both poor execution and opposing goaltending. After allowing six goals in Game 4, Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk put together back-to-back games in which he only surrendered one tally. No matter how well Dubnyk played, mustering only two total goals in the final two games of the series is unacceptable for a team of this caliber. Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock’s future with the team may be in jeopardy after another poor postseason showing.

    4) Anaheim looks like a serious contender

    The Anaheim Ducks managed to sweep the Winnipeg Jets by leading just 38 minutes and 26 seconds of the 245 minutes and 12 seconds that were played during the four contests. This may sound alarming for the top seed in the West, but outscoring the opposition 10-1 in the third period and overtime of this series signals that when the game is up for grabs, the Ducks are the more determined team. Corey Perry, who notched 7 points, and the offseason acquisition Ryan Kesler, who added five of his own, led the Ducks in scoring. Acquiring Kesler is proving to be a worthy move for the Ducks as he scored some of the biggest goals in the series, including an overtime-forcing tally on the road late in Game 3. Continued production from Kesler and Perry as well as increased output from Captain Ryan Getzlaf will be key in a second round showdown with the surging Calgary Flames. Both teams are top 4 in the playoffs in both goals per game and power play percentage, so expect this series to be a high scoring thriller out west. 

    5) Home ice is crucial in close out games

    Teams playing at home with the opportunity to end the series were a combined 6-2 in the first round. The only losses were Montreal playing Ottawa at home with a 3-1 series lead and the Detroit Red Wings facing the Tampa Bay Lightning with a three games to two edge at the famous Joe Louis Arena. Home ice advantage proved to be monumental in both Game 7. The Washington Capitals were able to eliminate the New York Islanders in a close 2-1 game, and the Lightning dispatched the Red Wings by a score of 2-0 behind goalie Ben Bishop’s best night of the postseason. Both Game 7 environments were electric, and the home players of both teams certainly fed off the crowds’ energy to seal the games late in the third period. Vigorous playoff atmospheres in the NHL surely give the hometown players an extra spark on the ice, and that extra step over the opposition usually ends up being the difference in a tight series-clinching game.