Five Air Force Academy Cadets Are Making An Impact In The NWL

During the summer months, most college students complete an internship or work a job providing them with valuable experience for their desired careers. Similarly, for those with aspirations to play professional baseball, the Northwoods League is essentially a professional baseball internship. Cadets at the United States Air Force Academy, however, are not like most college students. They experience a regimented schedule, an extremely shortened summer break, and conclude with years of service to their country. This month, five Cadets joined forces with the Northwoods League, each signing two ten-day contracts.  The USAFA Falcons include: KJ Randhawa, Matt Alexander, Aaron Kurcz with the Alexandria Beetles and Michael Ruvolo and Travis Lane with the St. Cloud River Bats.

For Randhawa and Alexander, entering their senior years, it was an easy decision to spend their time off in Alexandria. For Kurcz, who just completed his freshman year, it was a tougher decision.

“My freshman year was tough and I really wanted to go home,” Kurcz, a right-handed relief pitcher from Las Vegas, said. “But I talked to a couple players who played last year and they said it was the greatest three weeks of their life and I decided it would just be too much fun to pass up.”

The connection with the Northwoods League lies with former Beetles assistant and current Air Force assistant coach Chandler Rose. In 2007, Rose was named the NWL Assistant Coach of the year and boasts playing experience with both the Beetles and Mankato MoonDogs.

 “Coach Rose had nothing but good things to say about the league and we were all pretty excited to come out based on what he told us,” Randhawa said.

It is consistently a challenge for teams in the league to field a full roster early in the summer, making it a great fit for the Beetles and Bats to take on the Air Force players at the start of the season.

“Because of the 10-day contracts it works great for us to fill some holes and it gives them a good test,” said St. Cloud VP Ryan Voz.

According to the USAFA website being a cadet: “Takes dedication, sacrifice and stamina. Organization, time-management, and self-discipline amid mental, ethical and physical demands. The environment is one of structure, rules, and regulations. But the rewards are lifetime friends, honor, personal development, pride, and of course an exciting career.” Approximately 60% of Academy graduates are selected for flight careers, such as Fighter Pilot; Navigator; or Air Battle Manager. Others may serve in non-flying categories in healthcare, legal, and space related careers.

 “It is definitely different and challenges you in a lot of ways,” said Randhawa, a slick-fielding short stop from Fairfield, CA. Both Randhawa and Alexander were recently informed they will have pilot slots upon graduating next spring.

“The Academy offers a lot of opportunities and I wanted to learn how to fly and am going to get that opportunity. I’m excited to move on and be a pilot in the Air Force,” said Alexander. He was named the 2009 team MVP for the Falcons after leading the Mountain West Conference with 15 home runs and 65 RBIs and was one of 16 semifinalists for the 2009 Dick Howser Trophy, given to the top player in collegiate baseball.

For Kurcz, who was approached by Air Force during his junior year of high school, it came down to the opportunities the Academy provided along with baseball.

“When they first contacted me I didn’t really think much about it but then I realized its more than just baseball there and it provides good opportunities after you graduate. And I still get to play baseball for four years which is great.” Kurcz was also recruited by UNLV, Utah and College of Southern Nevada.
“When I first came here I wasn’t really into flying but now I am starting to think it might be a good thing for me to do,” Kurcz explained. “If I can go play professional baseball would be great but if not I can still be a pilot in the Air Force.”

Their time may be short, but their abilities have quickly made an impact. Kurcz has been dominate despite his small stature. He is listed at a generous 5’-11” and 155lbs. In 10 appearances he has allowed just three runs and has saved six of the Beetles eight victories. Randhawa has been a valuable situational hitter for Alexandria and has an on-base percentage of .386 in the 16 games played. Alexander has been solid in the middle of the line-up leading the Beetles with a .344 average with two home runs and 11 RBI. For St. Cloud Michael Ruvolo, a junior right-handed pitcher from Lake Arrowhead, CA, has made four appearances and three starts. He is 0-2 with a 4.70 ERA. Travis Lane was a valuable asset for the River Bats in his 10-day stay in St. Cloud playing both first base and catching. Lane had to return to the Academy earlier than the others. Lane collected a hit and scored two runs in the five games he played in.

“Because we were so thin on position players Lane was a huge help being able to both catch and play first base,” Voz said.

The rest of the Cadets will end their three-week stay on June 17 and return to Colorado Springs to resume their training, education and baseball at the Academy. Fortunately, for everyone involved, the Cadets have chosen to spend their only break in the Northwoods League. In light of their contributions and character they likely will not be the last players from the USAFA to spend their short summer playing baseball across the Upper Midwest in the NWL.