St. Louis Cardinals: Pitcher and Naval Academy Grad Mitch Harris Released

Sep 30, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Mitch Harris (40) pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the seventh inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 8-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 30, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Mitch Harris (40) pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the seventh inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 8-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Mitch Harris, who spent five years in the United States Navy before eventually making his big-league debut, announced he was released by the organization Tuesday.

Mitch Harris has only pitched in twenty-six major league games for his career. All have come with the St. Louis Cardinals during the 2015 season, and all were in relief. That season, he hurled twenty-seven big league innings, finishing 2-1 with a 3.67 ERA. That will be his career line wearing the birds on the bat. But his story contains much more than his baseball card numbers from one season.

The Cardinals drafted and signed Harris in 2008. As a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, he had commitments to fulfill before he could pitch for St. Louis. After his breakout sophomore year on the mound, he could have left the Academy and pursued a career in baseball right there and then. But he elected to stay, and that decision came with a five-year commitment to the Navy once he graduated.

The Navy granted him permission to return to the Cardinals as a reserve officer in 2013, four years and eight months after his graduation. During his time in active duty, he spent hours aboard the USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf and the USS Carr off the coast of Colombia. To keep his pitching arm sharp, he threw on the deck of the aircraft carrier. Precision was key; a missed throw, and the ball was in the ocean.

Harris made his professional debut in 2013 with the Cardinals short-season A-ball affiliate, the State College Spikes. In 33 1/3 innings that year, he crafted a 0.81 earned run average. The next season, he climbed through the organizational ranks, eventually reaching Triple-A Memphis by the end of the season. That put him on the radar. The next year, he made it to the show.

On April 25, 2015, Harris made his major-league debut against the Milwaukee Brewers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That marked the first time in ninty-four years a Naval Academy graduate appeared in a major league game. He allowed a couple of hits and a couple of walks, but pitched a scoreless 1 1/3 innings. He also recorded his first career strikeout.

The Cardinals shuttled Harris between St. Louis and Memphis a couple of times later in the year. He didn’t appear on the playoff roster, but earned an invitation to major league Spring Training the following February.

Late in camp, he went down with a strain in his pitching elbow. That turned into a more serious concern, and he eventually received a primary repair of the UCL ligament in that elbow, ending his season before it began.

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He participated in minor league camp this spring, and began the year at Triple-A Memphis. He spent most of the first month of the season still on the disabled list, but pitched in two games for the Memphis Redbirds before getting the release.

Harris announced his release via social media Tuesday morning:

His statement reads:

"“Today was my last day as a St. Louis Cardinal. I couldn’t be more proud of the time I’ve spent with this organization. They believed in me when others didn’t. They provided me the opportunity to fulfill my dream and to that I say thank you! Today marks the end to my time with the Cardinals but the beginning to another journey. I don’t know what God’s plan is but I know I’m excited for it. Thank you Cardinal Nation for your unending support! Thank you to the coaches for pushing me to become the pitcher they knew I could be. Thank you most of all to my teammates. I’ll cherish all our time together and most importantly our friendships. It was an honor to wear the “birds on the bat”… thank you!Mitch”"

Harris, 31, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he doesn’t plan to retire from baseball, but rather pursue other opportunities. Having received surgery only nine months ago, he feels that he’s finally ready to get back to being the pitcher he’s been and knows he can still be.

He remains grateful to the Cardinals organization, saying “It’s going to be hard to put on another jersey. The Cardinals will always be special for the opportunity they gave me. I’m excited for the next one.”

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Harris’ journey to the show, which began as a graduate of the Naval Academy nine years ago, and which has seen nearly five years overseas, parts of three seasons in the minor leagues, and one year rehabbing from surgery, isn’t over just yet.