Duty calls for West Point grads

Duty calls for West Point grads

PITTSBURGH -- The Class A State College Spikes held a press conference on Friday to announce that they had lost outfielder Cole White and catcher Chris Simmons to another organization -- the U.S. Army.

Both players graduated from West Point this spring, and were subsequently drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in June. Their professional baseball careers will now have to be put on hold, however, due to a new U.S. Army policy.

All West Point cadets are required to serve two years of active duty upon graduation, but 2005's Alternative Service Option allowed professional athletes to delay this obligation until the conclusion of their playing careers. Earlier this month, however, the Army changed this policy so that cadets interested in pursuing a professional sports career must serve two years of active duty before applying for a release.

In addition to White and Simmons, High Desert's Nick Hill, Cedar Rapids' Milan Dinga and Jamestown's Drew Clothier are also reporting for active duty. The most high-profile athlete affected by the policy change is defensive back Caleb Campbell, who had been selected by the Detroit Lions in the seventh round of the NFL draft.

"It's been a real rough couple of days," said White, who hit .366 over 71 at-bats with the Spikes. "This is something that we have put so much time and effort into, since we were 3 or 4 years old, just playing the sport that we love. To no longer have control over it is frustrating."

"I'm kind of shocked," added Simmons, a 22-year-old catcher. "I had assumed that we were at least going to play out the regular season."

Instead, both players are embarking on their post-collegiate military careers. While their longer-term futures are still uncertain, the first step has been decided. White will be returning to West Point, where he will enroll in an officer training program while serving as an intern in the athletic department. Simmons, meanwhile, will serve as an aide to an officer at Fort Knox before relocating to Fort Benning.

And, just like that, White and Simmons must leave the Spikes behind.

"The whole experience has been great and the fan base was awesome," said Simmons. "And because of [manager] Brad Fischer and [hitting coach] Sid Bream, my game has vastly improved."

"Playing every single day and traveling, at first it was like 'Man, this is awesome,'" said White. "But soon the grind kicked in, and I learned what it was that you had to do to be successful. It's a lot of hard work, and I respect every single person that plays professional baseball."

Over the next two years, White and Simmons will be unable to prioritize baseball to the extent that they would like. It will be difficult, but both players hope to one day return to the world that they must now leave behind.

"Two years is a while to be out of the game, but I'm looking at that as a motivator," said White, who is now 23. "I want to get bigger, stronger and faster, and still be a force when I return. It's definitely a challenge, and it's not going to be easy to stay focused, but I plan on sticking with this."

Simmons was even more succinct.

"As long as I can play, I will," he said. "Anything's possible."

Benjamin Hill is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.