Feb. 16, 2009
Brothers JD and Mitch Melton are the epitome of "All-American boys". Both midshipmen are dedicated members of the Navy baseball team who came to college with the desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves. The paths they have taken to get to this point have been remarkably similar; however, neither has allowed that to stifle their individuality. The definition of what midshipmen should be, JD and Mitch are upstanding young men who display strength of character, loyalty and an exemplary work ethic, all the while maintaining their youthful enthusiasm and senses of humor.
As youngsters in Myrtle Beach, S.C., JD and Mitch were partners-in-crime. Inseparable, the boys would spend hours outside in the fresh beach-town air, climbing trees, riding golf carts and inventing creative games to keep themselves occupied. Mitch has a "battle scar" on his upper lip from one such game - pecan hockey, a sport that substitutes golf clubs for hockey sticks and pecans for pucks.
"Mitch, the goalie, was trying to come get the pecan from my cousin, so my cousin passed it to me," recounts JD, the elder of the two. "I was setting up to shoot as he came up behind me, and I popped him in the mouth with the golf club, cutting his upper lip right in half. He had to get it sewn back together. He always makes fun of me for giving him that scar. I think it looks pretty cool. He has this Clint Eastwood thing going on."
Starting in the little leagues at age four, both JD and Mitch displayed a passion and natural talent for the sport of baseball. However, due to the two-year age difference, they didn't have the opportunity to play on the same team until Mitch reached high school. Each excelled on the football and baseball fields, gaining regional and state recognition for their talents in both sports.
JD was named regional player of the year, a member of the all-state team, and earned First-Team Toast of the Coast honors in baseball. He was also an All-American quarterback for Myrtle Beach High School and was given the title of Mr. Football in South Carolina during his senior season.
Mitch was named an all-state and all-region catcher during both his junior and senior baseball seasons. Additionally, he was an all-state football selection on the 2006 team that won the regional championship, and earned a coveted spot in the academic National Honor Society his senior year.
However, to these humble brothers, this list of accolades was not what they strove for, but simply what was given after long years of dedication, hard work and simple enjoyment of the games.
Unsurprisingly, both young men chose to play college baseball. Though both had a great talent for football, neither JD nor Mitch ever considered playing on the collegiate level.
"My brother and I both knew that all we wanted to do was play baseball," says Mitch. "Football, while a sport that we enjoyed playing during high school, was just something to do during the off-season to keep active and in shape. It was never something that either of us really loved."
After graduating high school, JD moved on to play his freshman year at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. Coming into college, the Wofford coaches had hoped to use his talents as a third baseman, a position that he'd found to be a good fit in summer leagues. He'd pitched in high school, but his talent was mostly undiscovered until a fall scrimmage that freshman year. While not having one of the hardest fastballs by collegiate standards, JD developed a deceptive side-arm pitching motion that made him an asset out of the bullpen. Called in for 29 games that season, JD helped to account for 70 percent of his team's 20 wins. He finished the year with a 7-4 record and collected seven saves, which set the freshman record at Wofford. In recognition of his contributions, he was named a 2006 Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American relief pitcher.
To most, it would seem that JD was living the ideal college life. A vibrant and outgoing person, he had joined a fraternity where he made very close friends, was a valuable player on the baseball team and generally enjoyed himself and his teammates. However, to JD, something was missing.
Academically oriented, JD wanted a college environment that would challenge him to reach beyond his current abilities. Initially interested in both the Naval Academy and Wofford, he did not finish his application to the Academy and chose to attend Wofford instead.
"Wofford is a wonderful place. They genuinely care about academics and their students," says JD. "I just felt like I should want to do something bigger with my life and that I shouldn't have passed up the chance to go to the Academy."
With the full support of both coaching staffs, JD applied to and joined the Naval Academy as a member of the Class of 2010. Accepting that he would have to redo his freshman year, JD zealously dove into the challenges of the Academy and his role on the baseball team. As a plebe with sophomore eligibility, he pitched in 19 games, 18 of which he closed. He finished the year with a 3-2 record with nine saves, and didn't allow a run in 14 of his last 16 appearances. As a sophomore with junior eligibility, he again made 19 appearances, ending the season with a 2-1 record and led the Patriot League with seven saves. This track record, along with an ability to motivate his teammates through the toughest of games and practices, merited JD the honor of being elected the 2009 team captain.
"JD has been an outstanding addition to the team," says Navy head coach Paul Kostacopoulos. "In the last two years, he has made a ton of saves for a program that has needed the kind of player who can come into the game in a tight spot and do what he needs to do to close out a ballgame. What JD did really well was adjusting to the Naval Academy and the grind of being a midshipman. Plus, he was able to improve his performance on the field from the year before. For him to make the adjustment from civilian to military school so quickly and being able to function so well tells you the type of person that he is."
While his big brother was making waves at Wofford and then at Navy, Mitch was beginning his college search. Since childhood, Mitch had dreamed of attending The Citadel. However, with his brother's move to Annapolis, Mitch had the opportunity to experience the Naval Academy, a college environment with a similar military structure. He liked the atmosphere and the opportunities the Academy could present.
"I'm probably more concerned about my future than other people," Mitch confides. "I knew that the Naval Academy was great academically and would help me be successful in the future. That, combined with the opportunity to play baseball, made the choice easy."
A candid and quietly humorous person, Mitch leads by example both on and off the field, earning him the respect and trust from friends and teammates. He consistently displays one of the hardest work ethics on the team, silently doing all in his power to help his teammates improve their game.
"On the field, Mitch has an extremely demanding and sometimes thankless job," says close friend and teammate Sam Long. "He warms up every pitcher before they go into the games and in practice. On top of the demands of practice and conditioning, Mitch puts in extra hours so that the pitchers can get a workout with a live catcher. It sometimes goes unnoticed, but he always does it with a smile."
Though Mitch didn't see any game action as a freshman, he was an unfailingly supportive teammate, motivating from the bullpen while working to improve his game.
"It was pretty tough to not be playing, but not demoralizing," Mitch assures. "I realized that I was not physically or mentally ready to play that spring. It motivated me to work hard over the summer and come back in the fall to prove that I could play this year."
While he is still in the backup catching role, Mitch's improvement has not gone unnoticed by his coaches, who look forward to giving him the opportunity to test his skills in a collegiate game situation.
"As freshman, Mitch was playing behind a couple really excellent catchers," says coach Kostacopoulos. "We've given him more opportunities to play this year and hasn't disappointed us. He's done a very good job and has definitely improved."
While having chosen extraordinarily similar paths up to this point, JD and Mitch have aspirations to pursue individually unique futures. A general engineering major, JD hopes to serve in the Marines as an engineer and hasn't ruled out a career in the Navy.
"Personally, I feel like the military is a calling," says JD. "It's something that I'm going to really enjoy for at least my five years."
Mitch hopes that his economics degree will lead him down the path of a Naval Flight Officer. However, he's several years from deciding on a service selection and, as he puts it, "it's still to early to tell." He has challenges to meet and decisions to make before he can seriously contemplate where his future will lead.
Though both unsure of where their paths may take them, the Melton brothers will continue to meet every challenge head on with determination and honor.
JD and Mitch Melton, along with the Navy baseball team, will open the 2009 season at USA Stadium in Millington, Tenn., facing Air Force on February 20.