Tigers farmhand goes from second lieutenant to field general

Detroit Tigers

ERIE, Penn. — When Double-A Erie catcher Jon Rosoff steps to the plate at UPMC Park, an Army running cadence song plays over the PA. This anomalous walk-up music, more evocative of boot camp than ballgame, encapsulates Rosoff’s dual existence. Since signing with the Tigers organization in 2018, he’s balanced

ERIE, Penn. — When Double-A Erie catcher Jon Rosoff steps to the plate at UPMC Park, an Army running cadence song plays over the PA. This anomalous walk-up music, more evocative of boot camp than ballgame, encapsulates Rosoff’s dual existence. Since signing with the Tigers organization in 2018, he’s balanced his baseball aspirations with a career as an active duty military officer.

“A 35-man roster on a baseball field is pretty much the same as a 35-man, 40-man platoon,” said Rosoff, speaking before first pitch of a SeaWolves game earlier this month. “You have people from all different backgrounds, and you have to know what makes each individual person tick. What makes them go. How you get the best out of them. It felt pretty natural to me.”

Rosoff competed on the baseball diamond throughout his youth, describing himself as a “utility guy who played everywhere.” Though the North Carolina native doesn’t come from a military family, he was intrigued at the prospect of playing collegiately for the United States Military Academy at West Point.

“It came down to West Point and Davidson College, for baseball, because that’s who I was being recruited by,” the 27-year-old said. “For West Point I thought ‘Might as well. Heck, why not?’… If I didn’t go there, if I didn’t pursue it, then it would have been something I always looked back on, like ‘What if?’ And I didn’t want to do that.”

Rosoff thrived at West Point, becoming a standout player for the academy’s Black Knights baseball team. Under the tutelage of coach Jim Foster, he transitioned from “utility guy” to full-time catcher and went on to rack up a myriad of honors and accolades. In 2018, his final season with the Black Knights, he was named the Patriot League Player of the Year.

“It was the environment, how they treated each other,” said Rosoff. “Because the Army is a people business, it’s all about the people. Everything is teams focused. So having grown up playing baseball, I honestly fit right in.”

Rosoff played four positions in 2022, including three appearances on the mound.
Tom Hagerty

Upon graduating from West Point, Rosoff was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Not long after that, he signed with Detroit as an undrafted free agent. He is currently one of three West Point graduates playing in the Minor Leagues, along with Reds outfielder Jacob Hurtubise and Mets lefty Cam Opp.

“So, it was an interesting path,” said Rosoff, laughing wearily at the memory. “I signed with the Tigers on June 18 [2018], a couple weeks after the commissioning and graduation. I was able to play Rookie ball [with the Gulf Coast League Tigers] into mid-to-late August and then I had to report to Columbus, Georgia [Fort Benning] and that’s when I did my infantry officer leadership course.”

While at Fort Benning during the 2018-19 baseball offseason, Rosoff became aware of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program (WCAP). This initiative, per its official website, “[A]llows top-ranked Soldier-athletes to perform at the international level while also serving their military.” Rosoff was accepted into the program, allowing him to return to the Minor Leagues as a means to train for, and hopefully get selected to, the U.S. Olympic baseball team.

Rosoff spent the bulk of the 2019 season with Class A Advanced Lakeland, appearing in 49 games with the team in a reserve role. The 2020 Minor League season was canceled, of course, and the Olympics were pushed to 2021. Rosoff says he came close to making the Olympic team, but ultimately he was selected as an alternate. He spent most of 2021 with the SeaWolves, while also playing 10 games for Triple-A Toledo.

Rosoff’s next step was to go “back to doing the real Army thing,” reporting to the Striker Brigade Combat Team at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs and staying there until the start of 2022 Spring Training. He returned to Erie in late April after beginning the season with High-A West Michigan.

Erie took Game 1 of the Eastern League Southwest Division Series against Richmond, 9-3. Rosoff didn’t play in the series opener. But the SeaWolves are a win away from providing fans at UPMC Park with a chance to get to hear Rosoff’s running cadence walk-up song in a championship series.

“Playing professional sports as an officer, and somebody to represent the military, you’re really able to reach these small communities,” he said. “Being able to talk with people about what my path was and other paths they could take, that was the mission set for WCAP and right now for me.”

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben’s Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.

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