Play Ball: IMA is first Academy grad to play Major League Baseball

Capt. Griffin Jax, Minnesota Twins pitcher, hugs his wife, Savannah, at his Major League Baseball debut in Kansas City, Missouri, June 5, 2021.

Capt. Griffin Jax hugs his wife, Savannah, at his Major League Baseball debut in June. An Individual Mobilization Augmentee, Jax is the first Air Force Academy graduate to play for an MLB team (Courtesy photo)

(from left to right) Cadet Griffin Jax, stands with his brothers, Cadets Carson and Parker Jax, during his senior year at the Air Force Academy in 2017. Now a captain in the Air Force,

Then-Cadet Griffin Jax, left, stands with his brothers, Cadets Carson and Parker Jax, during his senior year at the Air Force Academy in 2017. (Courtesy photo)

Capt. Griffin Jax put his baseball dream on hold when he joined the Air Force, but the flexibility of being an Individual Mobilization Augmentee has allowed him to take the mound again … this time for a Major League Baseball team.

Jax made United States Air Force Academy history earlier this summer as the first cadet to play at the MLB level. He made his debut June 5.

Now his year is split between two unique careers. During the baseball season, Jax pitches for the Minnesota Twins. In the off-season, he switches to his military position. As an Air Force IMA supporting the U.S. Space Force, Jax is assigned to the Digital Analysis and Assessments Division and works as the IMA to the chief of the Resources Branch in Space Operations Command.

Baseball has been a part of Jax’s life since he was five years old. He played other sports as a child, but he said baseball was his favorite.

“I can definitely see how it catches a lot of heat from people for being kind of slow, but I always really enjoyed the subtle intricacies of it,” he said.

By middle school, he was thinking about playing professionally. In high school, he saw himself as “middle of the pack,” but some MLB teams saw potential. The Philadelphia Phillies offered him a spot in their organization, but Jax turned it down.

“I didn’t have aspirations to sign straight out of high school,” he said. “I wanted to go to college first.”

Jax decided to go to the Academy. Although he said he was excited to play for a Division 1 team, his main focus was on earning his education.

“I knew going to the Air Force Academy would set me up for some pretty cool life opportunities and experiences I wouldn’t find anywhere else,” he said.

In 2016, Jax’s junior year, he was drafted by the Twins and made an agreement with the school. He was to play ball for the summer, finish his senior year and then return to the team. But a month or so prior to graduation, he was told he needed to complete his active-duty commitment first.

“When I graduated in May of 2017, I thought baseball was going to be put on the backburner,” he said. “I went into my first duty assignment with the understanding that I wouldn’t be able to play for roughly two years.”

Only six months into his position, he applied to the World Class Athlete program, an Air Force-sponsored program that allows Airmen to train for an Olympic sport. Since Jax fell into the 2020 Olympic window, he applied. After acceptance, he stopped his day-to-day job and started training again.

In the spring of 2019, Jax transferred to the Reserve using the Palace Chase program. He found an IMA position and started in November. Seven months later, he received the call from the Twins he’s been waiting for. It was official – time to play ball.

“When the season’s over, I have to shift gears and focus on something completely new,” the captain said. “I have something else to pursue and better myself at.”

Jax said he couldn’t have asked for a better unit to serve in, and HQ RIO, the organization that supports all the Air Force IMAs is excited he’s part of their team as well.

“Captain Jax is an excellent example of the flexibility inherent in the IMA program,” said Col. Jason Cashman, HQ RIO Detachment 3 commander. “Even with the demands placed on a professional athlete, he is able to continue to serve his country. Managing dual careers can be challenging at times, and I applaud his motivation to continue to support Space Operations Command and the Air Force Reserve.” #ReserveResilient

(Abrahams is assigned to the HQ RIO public affairs office.)