For most, getting drafted out of college represents the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, the conclusion of a purposeful progression that began in Little League.
Was that the path of Noah Song, a fourth-round pick Tuesday in the 2019 Major League Baseball amateur draft?
“Absolutely not,” the righthander said shortly after the Red Sox selected the Naval Academy graduate. “When I was recruited, I understood it was going to be four-and-done — four years of baseball and done. I knew that the chance of playing professional sports was slim to none, and more on the side of none.”
But a lot changed for Song from the time that he arrived in Annapolis, Md., from Claremont, Calif., in ways that made him a fascinating and in some ways confounding prospect in this year’s draft.
Song came to Navy, baseball coach Paul Kostacopoulos recalled, as “a one-trick pony” — a fastball that he could throw for strikes in the high 80s accompanied by an occasional breaking ball. His velocity ticked up his sophomore year and he earned an invitation to the Cape League, where he pitched 10 innings for Harwich.
But when Song returned to school in September, the four-and-done path altered.
“I still remember the fall day in September,” Kostacopoulos said. “For some reason, we put the radar gun board up, which we never do. His first pitch was 94. And I went, ‘Jeez, that’s a lot better.’ Then the next one was 95, and the next was 96. I was like, ‘We might have something here.’ ”
It wasn’t just the velocity. Song added a slider, which proved mostly unhittable against Division 1 Patriot League opponents.
Draft interest grew, but while Song gave the idea of turning pro some consideration — which would have meant leaving the Naval Academy — he wasn’t rushing to turn pro after his junior year.
“It would have taken a very large amount of money to deal with a buyout of the [scholarship at Navy],” Song said. “It became very complicated and very unlikely and unrealistic for a lot of teams. It worked out for the better. I was able to get my degree and education, which was first and foremost.”
He also valued the baseball experience. Song said that working with Navy’s coaching staff helped contribute to his dominance as a senior, when he went 11-1 with a 1.44 ERA and 15.4 strikeouts and 3.0 walks per nine innings.
He became one of four finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, which honors the top amateur player in the country. Song joins three players who were taken among the top four picks in the first round — catcher Adley Rutschman of Oregon State (No. 1 overall), first baseman Andrew Vaughn (No. 3) of the University of California, and Vanderbilt outfielder J.J. Bleday (No. 4).
As a Navy graduate, Song, obviously, went in a very different part of the draft. He will report to Pensacola, Fla., on Nov. 1 to start aviation training, the beginning of a five-year commitment to serve in the Navy. As was the case with past Navy athletes such as former NBA star David Robinson, after two years, he’ll be eligible to petition the Navy to serve the duration of his service in the reserves.
“You have to put in your time [in the Navy],” Song said. “I’m preparing to serve that out, and we’ll see how that goes a little while down the road.”
In 2012, the Red Sox drafted J.T. Watkins out of West Point in the 10th round. He played a summer in Lowell, served for two years, then resumed his minor league career in 2015. He played two seasons before moving into an off-field role with the Red Sox, where he’s now in his third year as an advance scouting assistant to the big league staff.
Song could reach a quick agreement with the Red Sox and play this summer with Lowell before reporting to Pensacola. But the disruption to his professional career is certain.
“He is going to serve,” Kostacopoulos said. “He never, ever batted an eyelash that his first responsibility is to serve his country. That is absolute No. 1.
“He never for one minute deviated in his personality or what was important to him. I think most people would be overwhelmed.”
Song isn’t, even though he’s aware of the challenges ahead.
“It’s unfortunate in the baseball aspect of this, that you don’t get to develop the way you want to, and that you might have to come back at square zero,” Song said. “[But] I’m going to play baseball as long as anybody will let me, whether that be the military or MLB telling me [I can’t]. It will never be by my own decision that I’ll quit.”
Alex Speier can be reached at email@example.com.