(MilitaryTimes.com) - On the same day the Navy announced it was releasing Lt. j.g. Eric Kettani to pursue a career in the NFL, the service also made a less-public decision about the pro baseball hopes of Lt. j.g. Mitch Harris, a Naval Academy grad who's spent this spring with the St. Louis Cardinals organization.
Harris, drafted by the Cardinals in the 13th round in 2008 after graduating from the academy, was denied an early release by the Navy to pursue his baseball career. So for now he'll finish up his leave with the Cardinals and report to Dam Neck, Va., at the end of May for his next assignment.
Harris said Friday that's he's disappointed by the decision, obviously, but understands that it was a possibility all along.
"As of right now it's kind of just go with the flow and do as I'm told until I figure out what's next," Harris said from Jupiter, Fla., where he's playing on the Cardinals extended spring training squad.
Harris is still looking for more information as to why the Navy denied his request, saying that he's trying to talk to as many people as possible about his options going forward. So far, he said, he's heard little explanation from the Navy.
Harris previously had been denied an early release in 2010, but decided to apply again last summer after the Navy loosened its policy on allowing academy grads and NROTC-commissioned officers to pursue pro careers "to showcase their talents on a national stage when in the best interests of the service."
Making matters more confusing for Harris was Kettani's release to play for the Patriots. While happy for his fellow Mid to be getting a shot at playing pro football, Harris was unclear what differentiated his case from Kettani's.
"Eric and I are good friends. I'm pumped for him," said Harris, who tweeted congratulations to his fellow SWO on the same day he got denied by the Navy. "In the same sense it's hard, again, it's been a dream for me [to get a shot at the majors] ... I feel like I'm right there."
Harris is scheduled to pitch his first game of the spring today after working past some arm soreness that slowed him earlier in the spring. Although he could keep in himself in top physical shape while serving on active-duty, keeping his throwing arm strong would be much harder.
"It got a little sore after a week or two," Harris said. "But I'm back to where I feel like I need to be."
Harris said he's fed off the professionalism and work ethic of the more seasoned ballplayers, noting that the atmosphere is a complete change from anything he experienced while playing at the academy.
"You realize it's not a game anymore. It's your job," Harris said . "Every single day when you come to the ballpark, that's what you do for a living. ... You learn how to carry yourself in a professional manner."
The time spent with the Cardinals has only made Harris more determined to carve out a career in baseball.
"It's been a challenge. It's definitely been a motivation to [make the team]," Harris said. "If I just get the chance, I can prove to myself and everyone else that I have what it takes to be a professional baseball player."
And although his quest is once again on hold, Harris said he's still optimistic he can appeal the decision and win an early release from the Navy. Ideally, he would like to be able to report to the Cardinals at the beginning of next year's spring training. Harris believes playing baseball would be a great public affairs and recruiting benefit for the Navy, and he's hoping the situation may yet be worked out.
"There's so many ways we can make this great for both sides," Harris said.
Phil Creed, MilitaryTimes