Navy denies Noah Song’s request to play pro baseball

By BILL WAGNER | The (Annapolis, Md.) Capital | Published: December 17, 2019

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — Noah Song’s baseball career is on hold even though a presidential policy was designed to give service academy graduates like him an opportunity to pursue professional sports.

Song, who spent last summer playing for a minor league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, is a victim of the exact wording of a recent Department of Defense order that permits athletes at the nation’s military academies to play pro sports immediately after graduation.

On November 8, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper signed an order that outlined the new guidelines, which stated that athletes with pro aspirations must obtain approval from the Department of Defense and mandated they eventually fulfill their military obligations or repay the costs of their education.

Esper’s highly anticipated order came at the request of President Donald Trump, who on June 26 directed the Pentagon to implement a policy that would allow service academy athletes to delay their active-duty commitments in order to play professional sports. Trump had given the Pentagon four months to develop the new guidelines.

Trump issued that order after the Army West Point football team visited the White House for the formal presentation of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. Trump stated that athletes graduating from the academies and Reserve Officer Training Corps should be able to defer their military service obligations due to the “short window of time” they have to “take advantage of their athletic talents during which playing professional sports is realistically possible.”

In the November 8 memo, Esper states that a military service secretary can nominate an athlete for a waiver after determining there “is a strong expectation that a Military Service Academy cadet or midshipman’s future professional sports employment will provide the Department of Defense with significant favorable media exposure likely to enhance national level recruiting or public affairs missions.”

Esper’s memo contained two important caveats. It took effect November 8, 2019, which means the graduating class of 2020 will be the first impacted. Also, it decreed that athletes approved for the waiver would not be commissioned as officers immediately following graduation.

Those two elements are why the new order cannot be applied to Song, who graduated from the Naval Academy in May and was commissioned as a Navy flight officer. The California native is waiting to receive orders to report to flight school at Naval Air Station Pensacola.

Song, who is currently stationed at the Naval Academy, had applied for a waiver that would have allowed the new policy to be applied retroactively to his situation. That request was denied recently by Adm. Michael Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations.

“Unfortunately, my request was negatively endorsed by the Naval Academy due to the fact this new policy did not apply to me,” Song told The Capital on Monday night. “The Naval Academy did not provide a positive recommendation to the CNO, and therefore, the request was denied. So that’s the end of that route.”

Song initially was scheduled to report to Pensacola in mid-December, but now has a tentative report date of late January. Flight school lasts two years and upon completion, he could apply for another waiver to resume his professional baseball career.

The Department of Defense has a long-standing policy that allows commissioned officers to pursue professional sports after serving two years of active duty. That policy requires those individuals to serve double the time of their remaining commitments in the reserves.

“I’m anxious to find out when my Pensacola report date will be so I can get started on my two years of training,” Song said. “Perhaps after two years, I will get another shot.”

Song enjoyed a sensational first season in the pro ranks and quickly established himself as one of the top prospects in the Boston organization. Playing for the Lowell Spinners of the short season Class A New York-Penn League, the right-handed pitcher made seven starts and allowed just 10 hits and two earned runs in 17 innings. He recorded 19 strikeouts and allowed just five walks while posting a 1.06 earned run average.

Boston made Song a fourth-round selections in the 2019 Major League Baseball Draft and signed him for $100,000. MLB.com rates the hard-throwing, 6-foot-4, 200-pounder as the No. 15 overall prospect in the entire Red Sox minor league system.

Song likely would have been promoted to either low Class A Greenville or Class A-Advanced Salem had he been allowed to play baseball during the 2020 season. Instead, he will remain the property of the Red Sox until such time as he is able to resume pursuit of pro baseball.

“I’ve dealt with enough adversity in my life that this isn’t going to completely bring me down,” Song said. “The Navy definitely does not owe me anything. This (waiver request) was a Hail Mary play. I didn’t expect too much. If you don’t expect much, you don’t get disappointed. I’m excited to head down to flight school and get started on becoming a flight officer.”

Navy head coach Paul Kostacopoulos spoke with Song on Monday night after being informed of the news and said his former player was upbeat about the situation.

“Noah is a tremendous athlete as well as an exceptional person. Unfortunately, the timing of the pro policy with respect to its implementation has not lined up for him,” Kostacopoulos said. “I think Noah has accepted his fate. He has always wanted to serve and is looking forward to flight school.”

Kostacopoulos said there is no question Song has “major-league ability,” but acknowledged there is no way to predict how a two-year layoff will impact his pitching skills.

Sara Kelm, founder and CEO of the Lacertus Group, represented Song in his negotiations with the Red Sox. Kelm told The Capital on Tuesday morning she informed officials with the Boston organization during the recent winter meetings that Song’s request to continue playing professional baseball had been denied by the Navy.

“Obviously, Noah has always expressed an interest in doing both — playing baseball while also serving in the Navy. I know Noah wants to live up to the commitment he made,” Kelm said. “At present, Noah has a soft report date for flight school. You never know what will happen tomorrow. Things can change.”

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