BUFFALO, NY - You could not have scripted it any better; on Independence Day eve, the Buffalo Bisons' biggest night of the year, West Point graduate, Chris Rowley, made his first start in Triple-A.
Two years ago, Rowley was throwing on an army base in Bulgaria just to keep his arm in shape for life after the military.
"I didn't think about the implications down the road, obviously. But I had some growing up to do and I got it very quickly," Rowley said.
As a 17-year-old kid living in Georgia, all Rowley wanted was a place to play baseball in college but he only had two scholarship offers, one from Mercer College in Georgia and the other from the United States Military Academy.
He chose the better option as far as his playing career went. And it paid off in the long run. Rowley become one of the best pitchers in the league. During his junior season, he was named the Patriot League Pitcher of the Year and set an academy single season record for wins and shutouts among other categories.
But when it came to playing at the next level, a five-year service commitment was the big strike against him. Despite his college accomplishments, he was not drafted in the 2013 MLB draft.
"I'll be honest I was very, I don't think bitter is the right word but I was very disappointed because I thought I did everything I could do," Rowley explained.
But two weeks later, the Toronto Blue Jays called and Rowley signed with the only team who gave him a chance.
"While they didn't draft me, they wanted to give me an opportunity and that's all I needed is to get my foot in the door," Rowley said.
So he got as much baseball in as he could during the 60 days before reporting back to West Point for duty. Rowley played rookie ball in the Gulf Coast League.
But after that, baseball was put on hold for the next two years. He went to Fort Sill in Oklahoma then Fort Stewart in Georgia and finally, went overseas.
"I deployed to Eastern Europe, Operation Atlantic Resolve which is basically the United States counter to Russian aggression into Ukraine. That being said it was a non-combat deployment. We didn't fight but we were there to show that NATO and the United State were not going to allow any kind of aggression from Russia to advance into those bordering NATO countries," Rowley explained.
Fast forward two years later, Rowley flying back to the United States, on July 5th, 2015. Seven months later, his MLB dream was back on track after rejoining the Blue Jays organization for 2016 spring training.
Now on the two-year anniversary of coming home, he's one step closer to the majors now pitching in Triple-A with the Bisons.