“Nemo” Gaines Made Quite a Splash

"Nemo" Gaines graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1921.

“Nemo” Gaines graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1921.

By Glen Sparks

Lt. j.g. Roland “Nemo” Gaines hurled a praise-worthy scoreless inning on June 26, 1921.

Gaines had recently graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. The Navy granted him temporary leave in order to play ball. Signed by the Washington Senators, Gaines made his debut against the New York Yankees.

The left-hander baffled the Yankees and impressed sportswriter John Dugan of the Washington Post. Dugan reported that, “the entire squad is enthused over the showing of young Roland Gaines.” Dugan declared Gaines’ fastball to be “baffling” and that his curveball “breaks like a pane of glass.”

Home plate umpire Ollie Chill (what a name!) also sang Gaines’ praises. Chill, according to Dugan, said that Gaines threw as fast a ball and as good a curveball “as any young pitcher breaking into the big league (sp.) he has worked behind in several years.”

The Navy, though, quickly called Gaines back to duty. Gaines’ career in the majors lasted just four games and 4.2 innings. He gave up five hits, two walks and struck out one batter. Nemo retired with an ERA of 0.00.

A native of nearby Alexandria, Va., Gaines returned to ship life. He served as a naval attaché in Peru during World War II and left the military in 1946. Later, he, along with his brother, Leland, opened a hardware story in Alexandria. He also raised Hereford cattle in Virginia, even serving for a while as director of the state’s Hereford Association.

Gaines died of cancer on Jan. 26, 1979, leaving behind a wife, two children and six grandchildren. He was 81 years old and the Naval Academy’s sole representative in Major League history until this season. Now, three former Midshipmen have played ball in the big leagues.

Mitch Harris, a 2008 Academy graduate, made his debut with the St. Louis Cardinals on April 25 against the Milwaukee Brewers. The right-hander struck out the first batter he faced (Adam Lind) and threw 1.1 scoreless innings.

Harris, 29, majored in engineering at Annapolis and made third-team All-American as a senior. He began pitching in the Cardinals’ minor league system after completing a four-year service commitment. During his Navy career, Harris visited 30 countries and was deployed at one point in the Persian Gulf aboard a 577-foot amphibious troop deck, the U.S.S. Ponce.

So far this season, Harris has appeared in relief 16 times. He has a 1-1 won-loss record in 17.1 innings of work with nine strikeouts.

Oliver Drake, who spent two years at the Academy before leaving to play pro ball, debuted May 23 for the Baltimore Orioles. Like Gaines and Harris, Drake is a pitcher and held the opposing team scoreless in his first game. Drake, 28, threw three innings against the Miami Marlins, struck out two batters and gave up two hits.

The right-hander pitched in five games and 7.2 innings with a 3.52 ERA before being sent down to the AAA Norfolk Tides on June 3.

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