Dayton outfielder Josh Holden, a 25-year-old lieutenant who played football and baseball at West Point, is the first person to use the Army's Alternate Service Option, according to the Dayton Daily News. The option permits officers and enlisted men to play professional sports while still in the service. Holden, a two-year starter at running back as well as a Patriot League batting champion, was originally drafted by the Yankees. The Reds signed him out of a tryout camp in 2004. This season Holden is batting .213 with four RBIs and four steals in 61 at-bats for the Dayton Dragons.
MiLB.com: You left the Army after serving two years to come play baseball. How did you go from one to the other?
Josh Holden: I went to West Point Academy and played football and baseball there. I was fully prepared for a career in the Army and two years into it, an old college mentor called me and said I should try out for the (Cincinnati) Reds. I gave it a shot, and they signed me.
MiLB.com: You're the first person to exercise the Army's Alternate Service Option. What is that?
JH: It's a program which allows enlisted officers to leave and play professional sports while still in service. The catch is I originally committed for five years, served two, and now instead of three active years, I have to put in six years in the reserves.
MiLB.com: So you were an artilleryman for two years. What exactly is an artilleryman?
JH: Well, I had a couple different jobs. I was a platoon leader for four platoons -- that's about 100 guys. I was also a fire directions officer which means I pretty much made sure shots were fired in the right direction and no one's house was getting shot at (laughs).
MiLB.com: Did you always have aspirations to either play professional baseball or be in the Army?
JH: I never gave the military a thought. My mom and dad were teachers, but I liked the quality education, athletics of West Point. And baseball never crossed my mind, I just did tried out on a whim because I would've regretted not doing it later.
MiLB.com: What was the transition like from living a civilian life to a military life and now a Minor League Baseball life?
JH: Not that bad. It sounds like it would have been a big adjustment both times, but it was just like any other adjustment. Once you get your routine set, you're fine.
MiLB.com: How do you deal with knowing you could work your hardest and still never make it to the Majors?
JH: I just tell myself all you can do with keep driving. You can't worry about things like that. Just focus on the next game, the next at-bat, that's all. You can't fall into the "What does the future hold?" trap.
MiLB.com: What was your first day in the Minors like?
JH: It was pretty exhilarating. I went down to the Gulf Coast League first. There were no fans, hot weather; I had to wake up pretty early, but I love playing ball so it worked out.
MiLB.com: What's the best part about playing in the Minors?
JH: Knowing I'm doing something I love. Also knowing I'm representing a group of people in the armed forces.
MiLB.com: Did you ever regret leaving your commitment to the Army to go play baseball?
JH: I absolutely struggled with it a lot before signing. Then I realized I could reach a lot more people while in baseball as opposed to in the Army by myself. Don't get me wrong, if my country needed me to go to Iraq or somewhere else, I would be there in a second, no questions asked.
MiLB.com: Are you nervous that you could get called to duty at any time, whether you're playing baseball or not?
JH: A little bit. I mean baseball's something I'm focused on right now. Obviously the goal is the Major Leagues, but as a reservist I could get called up (to the Army) anytime, so that's kind of in my head.
MiLB.com: What's the best baseball advice you've gotten and from whom?
JH: Probably from my (current) hitting coach Alonzo Powell. He said, "Have one quality at-bat every game." I didn't really know what that meant at first, but I'm figuring it out now.
MiLB.com: How do you like being in the public eye now that you're in the Minors?
JH: If you met me on the street, I'm shy, but with the media, kids, fans, bring them on. I love that stuff. What's better than having a little kid ask you sign his baseball?
MiLB.com: What advice are you giving young guys trying to break into professional baseball?
JH: The harder you work, the luckier you'll get. Be a professional and act like it; be mature and stay out of trouble off the field.
MiLB.com: What are your biggest pet peeves?
JH: Messy roommates and picky eaters too. People who are like, "I don't want this, I don't want that." Come on, just eat it.
MiLB.com: Who are your biggest baseball and non-baseball influences?
JH: Baseball would be Kenny Lofton for sure. He's such a great, versatile player. Non-baseball would be my parents, no question, for a number of reasons.
MiLB.com: Who would you be most flattered to hear yourself being compared to these days?
JH: Kenny Lofton. Scott Posednick or Johnny Damon would be nice, too.
MiLB.com: What's the worst part of playing in the Minors?
JH: Being disconnected from my family and friends. It's like being in your own world; everyone's life keeps going on while you're here. You get lonely; there are a lot of lonely times.
MiLB.com: What's the weirdest thing a fan has done to you?
JH: One kid asked me to sign his shoe (laughs). I don't know why, but I was happy to do it. Hey, whatever blows your hair back, right?
MiLB.com: What's your favorite Minor League promotion?
JH: The Zooperstars are awesome. Those toddler races where they bring them to home plate and tell them to run to first are fun, too. It's so cute, they just stand there looking at each other, it's so adorable.
MiLB.com: What's your favorite ballpark -- Minor League and Major League -- to play in?
JH: Dayton, no doubt about it. It's an awesome park. Major League park I'd have to say Fenway Park as my first choice. I'm also an Indians fan so Jacobs Field comes in second.
Sapna Pathak is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.