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Former Air Force pitcher Griffin Jax balancing professional baseball with responsibilities on active duty

March 14, 2018 Updated: March 15, 2018 at 8:54 am
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Griffin Jax instantly sees the result of his work as an acquisitions officer in Cape Canaveral, Fla. A part he procures for a military contractor one day is often launched – loudly – into space the next.

“You don’t miss the launches, even when you’re inside the building,” Jax said.

But all the while, the former Air Force pitcher and current Minnesota Twins farmhand is left to wonder when his second career will finally get off the ground.

Starting this weekend, Jax will begin making commutes across Florida to the Twins’ spring training complex in Fort Myers, where he’ll attend a workout or two and, if all goes well, pitch at least a little bit in games.

Beyond that, he doesn’t know what the summer will bring for his budding baseball career. Drafted in the third round by Minnesota after his junior year in June 2016, Jax agreed to a $645,000 signing bonus. This was when rules had changed to allow service academy graduates to immediately pursue professional sports opportunities.

But by the time Jax graduated in May 2017 – after sitting out his senior baseball season – the rules had reverted back to require two years on active duty before an athlete could apply to serve out the military commitment on reserve status.

Jax pitched last season while on 60-day leave following graduation, posting a stellar 2.39 ERA over 26 1/3 innings at Low-A Cedar Rapids before leaving in his final start to massive applause after it was announced he would be reporting to active duty the following day.

Now, Jax communicates regularly with new Twins minor league pitching coordinator Pete Maki to keep the same routines as the club’s other pitchers as much as he can without access to the same facilities. Jax instead works out at a Cape Canaveral athletic performance center, often with high school players catching him.

So far Jax, a Cherry Creek graduate, has thrown just 39 2/3 professional innings. By comparison, the pitcher taken one spot ahead of him in the draft – Aaron Civale – threw 164 2/3 innings last year. The player taken two spots ahead of him, outfielder Austin Hays, has already played 20 games for the Baltimore Orioles.

“My arm feels like I haven’t taken any time off,” Jax said. “All my pitches are working like I want them to. Obviously it will be different when I put a batter in the box. But just playing catch and getting off the mound it feels great. I’m excited to get back out there and see how I’m doing.”

Jax said he will file paperwork this summer to switch to reserve status after two years, which could mean he'll be ready to play full-time by late May or early July in 2019. He’ll lean on former Air Force teammate Ben Yokely as a resource, as Yokely recently completed his two years and is now with the St. Louis Cardinals, who drafted the reliever in the 29th round in 2015. Yokely’s return to baseball hit a snag when he learned upon reporting to the Cardinals that he needed labrum surgery on a hip.

Jax has found leadership at his base willing to work with him on scheduling to allow pursuit of his military and baseball ventures, and he remains encouraged about his performance last summer.

“It was enough to know this is what I’m meant to do,” Jax said. “I was just so anxious to get out there and show the Twins who they drafted and why they drafted me when they drafted me. It all sort of came together last summer. I was able to settle into the daily schedule of minor league baseball. It was funny, a lot of those kids complain about the time and the travel, but I’ll do that any day.”

This Second Lieutenant just can’t say with certainty when that day will come.

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