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.