The Department of Defense issued a memo approving new guidelines to give graduates of military academies more latitude to pursue professional sports careers, according to a report from the Associated Press. It remains to be seen, however, whether righthander Noah Song — drafted by the Red Sox in the fourth round this year after graduating from the Naval Academy — will get an opportunity to pursue his professional career in 2020 in the wake of that memo.
According to the report, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper signed a memo last Friday allowing military service secretaries to nominate athletes for service-time waivers if they have “a strong expectation that a Military Service Academy cadet or midshipman’s future professional sports employment will provide the DoD with significant favorable media exposure likely to enhance national level recruiting or public affairs missions.”
The nomination requires the approval of the Secretary of Defense and an agreement by the athlete to eventually fulfill his or her military commitment. If approved, the waiver is subject to annual review.
Since Song already graduated from the Naval Academy, the new policy technically does not affect him. However, according to a source familiar with the pitcher’s situation, the Navy was waiting for the new Department of Defense guidelines before the Secretary of the Navy made a decision on Song’s formal request for a waiver.
“The Navy is still reviewing the new policy to understand its impact on current commissioned officers,” Lt. Cmdr. Adam Cole, a Navy spokesperson, wrote in an e-mail. “The Navy will make a decision on ENS Song’s future service guided by current authorities. At this time, it would not be appropriate to comment on a Service member’s personal request, especially one that has not fully staffed through the chain of command.”
Song is scheduled to report to flight school in December. If he does start training, it’s likely that he would be unable to pitch for at least two years, at which point he would again be able to petition for a waiver. That said, there’s no guarantee he will get a waiver at that point — a fact that Song acknowledged prior to the recent Premier12 tournament.
“It very well could be the last time I throw,” said Song. “It doesn’t make me feel any more demoralized or anything like that. It’s the cards that I’ve drawn and what I’ve chosen to do by serving, so if that’s what it takes, then that’s what it takes. I’ve understood that.”
The Navy already had delayed Song’s flight school reporting date to permit the righthander — a Golden Spikes Award finalist as one of the best players in college baseball this year — to pitch in the Premier12 tournament. Song originally had been scheduled to report to flight school in November.
Song dominated as a reliever in the tournament. In five appearances, he threw 5⅓ scoreless innings, holding hitters to a 1-for-16 mark with two walks and six strikeouts. Song’s arsenal proved head-turning, as he showed a 96-99 m.p.h. four-seam fastball while also flashing both a curveball and slider that elicited swings and misses. His overall repertoire was consistent with reports from his strong showing in seven appearances with the Lowell Spinners in his pro debut this past summer.
Though Song threw 1⅓ scoreless innings against Mexico in the bronze medal game, the US lost, 3-2, missing out on a chance to qualify for the Olympics. The US will have another chance during an Americas qualifying tournament in Arizona in March. Whether Song gets the chance to be a part of that effort — and whether he gets to pursue his career with the Red Sox — remains to be seen.
In seeking a waiver, Song is exploring a path that has been made available at times to other athletes. Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona has balanced an active-duty commitment at the Naval Preparatory Academy in Newport, R.I., with his football career. In August, West Point graduate Brett Toth received a waiver to pursue an NFL career, signing with the Eagles. The left tackle subsequently was claimed off waivers by the Arizona Cardinals.