In about a month, some college juniors will receive life-changing assignments. Air Force senior outfielder Adam Groesbeck already has his.
Groesbeck, fourth in Division I in batting at .406, isn’t really thinking about the draft. After all, when you’re a U.S. Air Force Academy cadet about to embark on a career as a drone pilot, baseball is secondary.
“Every little kid dreams of playing in the majors one day, and it’s definitely been one of my goals, whether I’m drafted or not,” said Groesbeck, 22. “But I know baseball isn’t forever, and being in the Air Force, hearing stories about what’s been done before you got there, being in the fight and seeing some action, I think that’s one of the reasons I leaned into (military service).”
After the season, Groesbeck is scheduled to become a Remotely Piloted Aircraft Pilot, better known as a drone pilot. He’ll go to RPA pilot training at Laughlin Air Force base in Del Rio, Texas, as a second lieutenant.
Before then, Groesbeck is having an exceptional final season of college baseball. He is hitting .406/.458/.629 with six home runs and had a 30-game hitting streak, which ended Sunday with an 0-for-5 game against San Diego State.
Groesbeck is not a top prospect and the end of this season may mark the end of his baseball career. But if he is drafted, he would be able to play for 60 days this summer, his allotted leave. Beyond that, a recent decision placed a roadblock in his way.
In late April, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis ruled that service academy athletes would be required to serve two years of active duty before requesting the Ready Reserve status—meaning they’d serve five years in the reserves—that would allow them to play.
In a statement, Mattis said service academies “exist to develop future officers who enhance the readiness and lethality of our military services.”
As much as Groesbeck is focused on the military, he admitted to being a little crestfallen.
“Honestly, yeah, it is a little disappointing,” said the 5-foot-10, 175-pounder from Turlock, Calif. “But at the same time I knew the military service commitment that was tied to (Air Force). But if I did get drafted, I wouldn’t hang it up. I would do everything I could, take every opportunity to pursue baseball and overcome whatever obstacles are in my way.”
Griffin Jax, the righthander who was Groesbeck’s teammate last season, is facing a similar situation after he was drafted in the third round last June by the Twins—although the Twins and Jax seemed confident Jax will be able to play immediately because he filed for Ready Reserve status last year.
“I see Griffin every day, but none of us have sat down and talked about (his situation),” Groesbeck said. “It’s not all set in stone, per se. There’s not a ton of clarity, I think.”
Still Groesbeck understands his commitment, as do all the cadets, said Air Force baseball coach Mike Kazlausky, a former cadet himself and a retired Air Force major.
“There is a higher calling at play,” said Kazlausky, who has had four players drafted since 2013. “The mission is fly, fight and win. The three pillars are athletics, academics and military service, and all three parts are huge in the development and maturation and building leadership and character.
“These are not your average Joes. Yes, they want to be pro players, but there is a higher purpose. It’s not just about baseball.”
That is definitely true of Groesbeck. He was not heavily recruited out of Turlock High, but he also didn’t have any military background. No family had served. So when he got calls from the Navy first and then the Air Force, his interest was piqued.
“For me coming out of high school I was not a huge recruit,” Groesbeck said. “I didn’t know anything about the academies, but then I got a call from the coaches here and it all worked out. It was a combination of really getting a (scholarship) and then the educational opportunity.”
Groesbeck also understands the gravity of his chosen work, and that is certainly supersedes playing a game. It’s about life and death and protecting freedom.
“I think it’s part of everything tied into this place,” Groesbeck said. “You learn early on that your actions have consequences, everything you do has consequences. A lot of the teachers and (Kazlausky) have military backgrounds, a lot of them are pilots or drone pilots. It’s not necessarily direct training, but there are definitely people here available to communicate with you.”
Kazlausky said he talks with players about that kind of “responsibility. You truly prepare yourself; it far outweighs your batting average.”
Still Kazlausky said Groesbeck being drafted into pro ball would be a good development.
“Groesbeck is ready to go and serve and fight for us,” he said. “But if he is drafted, it’s a win-win for the military and the civilian side. It’s proof you can do it all, you can be an athlete and a pilot. You’re getting the cream of the crop.”