Red Sox prospect Noah Song, the Naval Academy graduate whom the Red Sox selected in the fourth round of the 2019 draft, will have to wait until at least next May before continuing his pursuit of a baseball career.
As first reported by the Capital Gazette, Song has been ordered to report to flight school in Pensacola, Fla., by June 26 to begin his training, likely ending a months-long saga for a talented pitcher who’d spent several months in limbo.
Last fall, Song had submitted a waiver request to transfer his commission to the Navy Reserves so that he could simultaneously fulfill his military service requirement and pursue a professional baseball career with the Sox. But in a statement from Song (relayed by the US Naval Academy), the 23-year-old said that in April he updated that request to pursue flight training.
“The original waiver, which requested the ability to continue my service by transferring my commission to the Navy Reserves and concurrently pursue a professional baseball career with the Red Sox organization, gave me the best chance to make it to the major leagues,” Song said in the statement. “However, I understand transferring immediately into the Reserves is unlikely because the law and policy in my case do not permit it.”
According to Commander Alana Garas, while the Department of Defense made a policy change in November 2019 to permit military service academy graduates to pursue professional sports careers, that policy did not apply retroactively to past graduates — such as Song — who were already commission officers.
“Ensign Noah Song is prohibited from being released from his active duty service obligation in order to play professional baseball by law and policy,” Garas wrote in an e-mail. “In accordance with Title 10, Section 8459, midshipmen may not be released from their commissioned service obligation to obtain employment as a professional athlete following graduation until they complete a period of at least two consecutive years of commissioned service.”
Song had been pursuing a waiver since last fall to have his commissioned service take place in the Reserves — similar to how Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona has served since graduating from the Naval Academy. But while there was, at times, optimism from the Red Sox and those familiar with Song’s case that a waiver would be granted, the review of the waiver — which would have required approval by the Secretary of the Navy and Secretary of Defense — was complicated by ongoing military leadership changes, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Song’s commission began upon his graduation from the academy in May 2019 — meaning that he’s eligible to seek a release into the Reserves, and the simultaneous pursuit of his pro baseball career, in May 2021. While Song will not pursue a baseball career for now, the door to a future in the Red Sox system hasn’t been closed completely — a notion acknowledged by the Naval Academy superintendent.
“Ensign Noah Song is an incredibly talented baseball player and promising naval officer,” Vice Admiral Sean Buck said in a statement. “The Navy has made great efforts to support his baseball goals within the constraints imposed by law and policy … The Naval Academy is proud of what Ensign Song has accomplished and is hopeful he will achieve his goals as a naval officer and professional baseball player.”
The conclusion of the months-long process means that Song, ranked the No. 9 prospect in the Red Sox system, won’t be able to pitch in the Red Sox minor league system until next year at least — though with the minor league season all but certain to be canceled this year, the impact of that delay is perhaps mitigated.
There is also a chance that Song won’t receive an opportunity to pitch for years, if ever. Naval aviators who graduate from flight school — a program with a limited number of spots that come at significant government cost — typically are expected to serve for at least six years. If Song is required to fulfill such an expectation, he would be in his 30s by the time he concluded his service obligation.
Song was a Golden Spikes finalist as one of the top college players in the country after his senior year at Navy. Despite a first-round pedigree, the question about his baseball future resulted in him remaining undrafted until the Red Sox grabbed the 6-foot-4-inch righthander in the fourth round.
In 17 innings with the Lowell Spinners last summer, he had a 1.06 ERA with 19 strikeouts and five walks, exhibiting the potential for a mid-rotation starter’s four-pitch mix (mid- to upper-90s fastball, slider, curveball, changeup).
The Navy then gave Song permission to delay the start of flight school to participate in the Premier12 tournament while representing Team USA last November. Given his performance in pro ball and the Premier12, as well as his four years of college experience and advanced approach on the mound, he was viewed as a candidate to pitch in High-A Salem in 2020, with some evaluators believing he had a chance to move quickly through the minors.
That possibility is now far less likely. Nonetheless, Song expressed his continued hopes of pursuing his unusual dual career track.
“The Navy allowed me to participate in minor league baseball, and to compete for Team USA in the months following my commissioning, and I am grateful for that opportunity,” Song said in the statement. “If I were somehow allowed to transfer into the Reserves, I would have every intention of serving on active duty after my time with baseball ends. I place an incredible amount of personal value in serving my country, and doing so in a meaningful way. I am fortunate to have two ‘Plan As’ in life; I want to serve my country as a naval aviator and play baseball for the Red Sox. I will continue to do all I can to accomplish both, and I sincerely appreciate the support I have received from the Navy and the Red Sox in reaching those goals.”