Navy move puts pressure on West Point

The Navy recently told stud pitcher Mitch Harris that he couldn't play for the St. Louis Cardinals and must report to duty. In the process, the Department of the Navy put pressure on the Army to cease its alternative service option, which allows a select few West Point athletes to complete their five-year military service obligation by playing professionally.

Serving as recruiters and as reservists.

Several Army athletes, including football players Caleb Campbell and Mike Viti and baseball players Milan Dinga, Nick Hill, Drew Clothier, Chris Simmons and Cole White, are taking advantage of the program. However, Department of Army officials are reviewing the controversial program.

If they deep six the alternative program, don't expect the Army athletes to be shipped off to Iraq or Afghanistan. The Army would likely grandfather it in. Army's rivals, Navy and Air Force, are upset with West Point's policy and says it will give them an unfair advantage in recruiting.

Both service academies have put pressure on Army. By making Harris serve, Navy is sticking by it's policy in place, and, in the process, perhaps, in some eyes, making Army look bad with its program.

As it stands now, Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter ruled that Harris must serve his five-year commitment. Harris could have more pro potential than any of the Army athletes in the alternative option service program.

Harris, a hard-throwing righty, went 20-13 with a 2.51 ERA in four years at Navy, averaging 11.78 strikeouts per nine innings. St. Louis selected him in the 13th round of this month's draft, making him the second-highest pick in the program's history.

Maybe Navy wishes Harris could play for St. Louis. Maybe not. But, one thing's for sure, if Navy allowed him to suit up, it would have lent credence to Army's policy. That would never happen.

"(Harris) will report to his ship as ordered," Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a Navy spokesman, told The Associated Press. "Bottom line is, we're a nation at war and as a nation at war we believe it is inappropriate for Navy and Marine Corps personnel to be released from service obligation to play sports at a time other sailors and Marines are carrying out their service obligations."

Of course, Davis makes a valid point, and what could be perceived as a dig at Army. Winter suspended all early releases from active duty for professional sports in January 2007. Previously, officers could serve 24 months and then apply for an early release to pursue "an activity with potential recruiting or public affairs benefit to the Navy and Marine Corps."

Our prediction? The Department of Army, feeling the heat, will do the same in the near future. Stay tuned.

Extra points: As expected, Army catcher Chris Simmons and outfielder Cole White have been assigned to the State College (Pa.) Spikes of the New York-Penn League. State College is an affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Pittsburgh took Simmons in the 41st round of the draft earlier this month and White in the 42nd. Teammate Drew Clothier, a lefty pitcher, is expected to join Simmons and White in the NYPL with The Jamestown Jammers. State College and Jamestown opened the season against each other on June 17.


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