Army grad set for major-league debut
By KEN MCMILLAN | The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) | Published: August 12, 2017
In the 127 years since the debut of the Army baseball team, no pitcher has ever reached the Major Leagues.
Chris Rowley, a 2013 West Point graduate, was called up by the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday and is expected to start Saturday's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The 1 p.m. contest will be aired on MLB Network.
"I'm really humbled to be the first West Pointer in the big leagues," Rowley texted on Friday night. "That's an honor that I can't fathom right now, but is not lost on me. I'm thrilled for the opportunity and excited to compete."
Word spread quickly on social media on Friday morning.
"So excited and happy for my former teammate (Chris Rowley) getting the call up to the Big Leagues," wrote Army teammate Alex Jensen on Twitter.
"This is a pretty big deal for Army, for West Point," said former Army coach Matt Reid, who recruited Rowley to West Point. "This is a big-time event when he takes that mound in Toronto. I am sure all the former players are really proud of him and all the officers who are at West Point and those who have taught him and helped him train through his career. I am sure everybody is excited."
Rowley will be the 12th starting pitcher Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has rolled out this season. Aaron Sanchez is sidelined with a blister and Francisco Liriano was traded to the Houston Astros, leaving the Blue Jays with three starters.
"I can hardly wait to watch that game," said executive athletic director Bob Beretta, a long-time close follower of the Army baseball program. "I am sure he will have butterflies but you won't be able to tell on the mound. My guess is he will perform like he has been in the big leagues for 10 years. That's Chris. He has a great presence and a great mound presence."
Seventeen Army players have been selected in the Major League draft since 1971. Only Craig Jones, Nick Hill and Milan Dinga have made it as far as Triple-A. Rowley was an undrafted free agent signing by the Blue Jays in 2013.
"I just remember him on draft day when he didn't get drafted," Reid said. "He was just really not disappointed, not mad, but he was just locked in and ready for the next challenge. He was like, 'I'm going to make this happen.' "
Rowley pitched rookie league ball in 2013 and then served two years of his military obligation before receiving a deferment. Rowley pitched to a 10-3 record and 3.49 ERA with high-Class A Dunedin in 2016. This year, he was 3-2 with a 1.75 ERA with Double-A New Hampshire and 3-4 with a 2.82 ERA with Triple-A Buffalo.
Reid said Rowley's even-keel attitude, solid work ethic and nasty movement on his pitches should help him stay with Toronto.
"Nothing fazes him," Reid said. "He doesn't ride highs and lows. He's just really locked in.
"He locates (his pitches) very well. He has a fastball that he can locate, he has a good slider and a good change-up. ... He's not throwing 96, 98, but if a kid is throwing 89 to 92 with the sink and run that he has on his fastball, and the change-up and slider that he's got, and the way he competes on the mound, he is going to do well."
The only other Army baseball player to reach the big leagues was outfielder Walter French, who played parts of six seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics (1923, 1925-29). In 397 career games he batted .303, had two home runs and 109 RBI. French played baseball for Army and Rutgers.
(c)2017 The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y.
Visit The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y. at www.recordonline.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.