Garrett Custons will play in his first professional baseball game Thursday, uncertain if it's the start of a career or simply a brief experience before a life in the Air Force.
Custons was drafted earlier this month by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 10th round (295th overall). Like many recent draftees, he was assigned to Rookie League and will open with the Bluefield Blue Jays in West Virginia.
Unlikel his teammates, however, Custons may see his season abruptly end when he is due to report to Patrick Air Force Base near Cocoa Beach, Fla., in about two months, exactly 60 days after he graduated from the academy
"It's not exactly black and white," Custons said. "There are a lot of gray areas and a lot of ways to play it. I don't exactly know how the athletic department wants me to handle it or how the Air Force is going to let me handle it."
Custons' ideal scenario would be to use 30 days of extended leave - essentially zapping his vacation time for the next year - to stay through the end of the season. He would then serve two years of active duty before applying for reserve status, which would mean missing only next summer's baseball season.
He might also request a transfer to MacDill Air Force Base, which would put him in close proximity to the Blue Jays' training facility and give him an opportunity to stay sharp during his time away.
Custons was one of 15 semifinalists this past season for the Johnny Bench Award, given to the nation's top catcher. He batted .353 as a senior and left as the program's all-time leader in at-bats and doubles and No. 2 all-time in hits.
Since arriving in West Virginia he has had the opportunity to catch two major league pitchers and he's shared a field with rehabbing shortstop Jose Reyes.
"I've only been here a week," Custons said. "But it's been one of the best summers of my life."
While athletes in other sports have played professionally beyond the academy, there are few recent examples in baseball. Karl Bolt was drafted in 2007 but opted for a career in the military after a short time in the Phillies' system. Only three others were drafted out of the academy, none since 2001.
Custons, who signed for a $1,000 bonus and will earn $1,100 per month in Bluefield, stressed that he is fully prepared to serve in the Air Force and fulfill his commitment. He does, however, want to explore his options in baseball.
"If I play well, I may have a chance," he said. "Nobody's blocking me but myself. I love the Air Force and I love what it's done for me. If I had to do it all again I would in a heartbeat, no questions asked. I'd love to stay in and do both, maybe come back some day to the academy and coach. That's kind of my dream is to go get some baseball experience and come back to the academy and help it to improve."