A lifetime commitment: PJ Hughes to serve country on and off the diamond

Sporting a black Army West Point shirt and purple Kansas State baseball hat, PJ Hughes watches his dad and brothers face his future team. PJ verbally committed to play baseball at Army on Sept. 11, 2022. (Chase Hagemann | Collegian Media)

Strolling down aisles with her shopping cart, Debby Hughes searched for groceries while life-changing family news occurred back at the Hughes family residence. Without consulting his mother, PJ Hughes called Army head baseball coach Chris Tracz on Sept. 11, 2022, accepting an invitation to play baseball at Army and serve the U.S. for five years after graduation. It was PJ’s first offer and coach Tracz’s first commitment as Army’s coach, making for an emotional family celebration.

“I was at Dillons and when I came back in, Pete and PJ were in the kitchen and he said, ‘Are you going to tell mom something, the news?’” Debby said. “It was overwhelming because neither of us have a military background, but I was really excited for him.”

All four Hughes sons played division one baseball, starting with Kansas State assistant coach Thomas, who played at OU and K-State. Hal followed suit by playing at LSU and Rice, and Dom currently plays outfield for his dad. PJ’s commitment is unique, as he is not only committing to baseball, but also becoming the first member of the Hughes family to attend a military academy and serve his country.

“He doesn’t know what he wants to do or what branch he’ll serve in yet, but it’s an honor to have my son protect the rights and freedoms of this country,” PJ’s dad and K-State head baseball coach Pete Hughes said. “There’ll be some worry over those five years and if he wants to make it a career no doubt, but I know PJ, and I feel safe knowing that the kid will be serving our country, for my own selfish interests.”

PJ said Air Force and NAIA program Benedictine recruited him while William & Mary and Davidson invited him to camps. Even so, he made the decision before having the chance to attend. His decision was influenced by a blend of factors, including the October atmosphere on the Army campus during his visit to West Point in New York as well as living in Manhattan during his high school years.

“Former Fort Riley [Lt. General Douglas A. Sims II] and my dad were good friends when we moved here, and he was a very big inspiration for me going there,” PJ said. “Moving here has grown our respect and connection for the military and just knowing D. Sims and wanting to be the kind of person he is, that was a big reason for me going there.”

Thirteen days after his verbal agreement, PJ appeared in front of Congressman Tracey Mann’s six-member panel at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene. The interview determined whether PJ would get nominated to attend West Point. The nomination letter arrived in the mail two weeks later, enrolling PJ at West Point.

The family is already entwining their Northeast roots with recent Midwest relations, creating bonds ahead of their PJ’s departure. They have family in New York City, so Debby connected with moms on their visit, joined online groups and attended an Army tailgate when K-State hosted the Black Knights this past weekend.

“It was a huge tailgate, there were like 150 people there of West Point alumni and people from Fort Riley, so he got to meet a lot of people and is feeling comfortable,” Debby said. “June 26 is our big drop off day.”

PJ hasn’t signed a letter of intent to play baseball at Army yet, but said he’s leaning toward April where he’ll sign with a group of athletes who play other sports at Manhattan High School. The Indians baseball squad started practice on March 6, and PJ kicks off his senior season on March 24 at Wichita South.