How Trump's policy proposal will affect ex-Navy pitcher Noah Song
By BILL WAGNER | The Capital | Published: June 27, 2019
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — Former Navy baseball pitcher Noah Song will likely be the first athlete to benefit from President Donald Trump’s policy change that would allow service academy graduates to defer their active duty military commitment in order to pursue professional sports.
Song was selected by the Boston Red Sox with the last pick of the fourth round (137th overall) of the 2019 Major League Baseball Draft earlier this month.
On Wednesday, Trump signed a presidential memorandum ordering the Pentagon to develop a new policy to allow athletes attending the nation's military academies to play professional sports immediately after graduating.
Song is currently on temporary assignment duty at the Naval Academy and is working under the Commandant of Midshipmen while awaiting guidance from the Navy about whether he will be able to play professional baseball this summer.
He is not the only former Navy baseball player who would be affected by the president’s policy change.
Left-handed pitcher Luke Gillingham is currently playing for the Vancouver Canadians, short season Class A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. Gillingham was taken by Toronto in the 37th round of the 2016 MLB Draft shortly after graduating from the academy.
Trump’s memo says student-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.” It gives the defense secretary 120 days to develop a plan.
Naval Academy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said there’s no question such a significant policy change would be beneficial to attracting athletes in certain varsity sports.
“Absolutely it would enhance recruiting across the board, particularly in those sports in which legitimate professional opportunities exist,” Gladchuk said. “We’re not going to start recruiting to it just yet. We need to wait until the proposed policy change is actually implemented.”
Song was commissioned in May as a Navy flight officer and is due to report to Pensacola for training on Nov. 1. Song said the Boston organization has presented a contract proposal that is being reviewed by the Navy.
“I was told the Navy had to look over the contract and other paperwork to make sure everything was properly worded and there were no conflicts,” Song told The Capital on Thursday morning. “Everyone with the Navy has been very helpful and supportive.”
When the presidential policy directive is implemented, Song will not have to attend flight school and will be allowed to pursue professional baseball full time. Song was informed of President Trump’s memo on Wednesday night by representatives of the Navy athletic department.
“Obviously, I’m very excited about this development and the possibility I’ll be able to chase my dream of making the major leagues,” Song said. “I’m very fortunate the timing worked out just right as far as my situation.”
Song had been in the process of applying to the Navy for permission to pursue summer employment outside of his military responsibilities. If that request is granted, the hard-throwing right-hand pitcher will use his leave time to play for one of Boston’s minor league affiliates.
The Red Sox talked about assigning him to the Lowell Spinners, the organization’s short season Class A affiliate in the New York-Penn League, he said.
“I’m still kind of in limbo right now waiting to see what develops. I’m not sure how long it’s going to take for this new policy to become more official,” said Song, who led Division I with 161 strikeouts and 11 wins while ranking sixth with a 1.44 earned run average as a senior this past spring.
If Song is allowed to defer his military commitment and commit full-time to professional baseball, it certainly improves his value to the Red Sox. He is represented by Sara Kelm of the Lacertus Group and she has already completed contract negotiations with Boston executives, Song said.
According to MLB.com, the 137th overall pick of the draft is slotted to receive a $406,000 signing bonus. Song does not intend to renegotiate terms with the Red Sox now that his bargaining power may be enhanced.
“For me, it was never about the money. My goal is to play baseball at the highest level,” he said. “I’ve agreed with Boston on a contract and I’m a man of my word.”
Derek Lyons, White House staff secretary, sent a copy of Trump’s memo to the leaders of the nation’s three major service academies — Air Force, Army and Navy. Vice Admiral Walter E. “Ted” Carter Jr., Naval Academy superintendent, received the memo on Wednesday.
Lyons wrote in an email that President Trump asked that he convey the following message to the superintendents, athletic directors and varsity coaches at all three service academies:
“As tremendous leaders and coaches at truly great schools, I thought you would appreciate seeing this. If all goes well, this action will make it far easier for you and our talented athletes to compete against other colleges and universities.”
An Air Force athletic department official said no one could comment specifically on how this new policy would affect its own athletes but said he believes it will impact athletes from every military academy equally.
Gladchuk noted that such a policy is directed at the Navy as a service and not the Naval Academy as an institution.
“We recruit them, educate them, commission them then turn them over to the Navy,” Gladchuk said. “The good news is that this policy is under consideration. No one knows exactly where it’s headed at this point.”
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