Chris Rowley, a 2013 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy who served two years on active duty in between starts in the Toronto Blue Jays minor league system, will get the call to the majors Saturday, set to start on the mound in Toronto against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Rowley reportedly will be the first West Point grad to play in the majors; Walt French, an outfielder who played nearly 400 games over six seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1920s, is the only known West Point attendee to make the big leagues, per Baseball-Reference.com and The Associated Press, but according to a piece at the Society for American Baseball research, he never graduated.
Rowley went undrafted after a 25-9 career at West Point, which included two All-Patriot League first-team honors and a school-record 11 victories in 2012. The Blue Jays signed him to a free-agent contract in 2013 and sent him to the rookie Gulf Coast League, where he went 4-0 with a 1.10 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings.
Instead of moving up the minor league ladder, Rowley moved into the ranks of 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, as a first lieutenant. His two-year service included duty in Bulgaria in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve, according to an Army West Point Athletics news release.
The righty left service after two years as part of a program that allowed academy graduates to pursue professional athletics by releasing them from their active-duty commitment. The Defense Department ended the policy in May.
Rowley restarted his minor league trek in 2016, posting a 10-3 mark in the Class A (advanced) Florida State League. This year, he went 3-2 with a 1.73 ERA with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats of the Double-A Eastern League before jumping to Triple-A Buffalo, where he’s gone 3-4 with a 2.82 ERA.
"Well he's an outstanding young American, I can tell you that," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons told MLB.com when announcing the roster move after Thursday’s game. "He's got a good feel of how to pitch. It's a pretty good story, you know."