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Navy denies Noah Song’s request to play pro baseball

Adm. Michael Gilday (Navy/Released)

Noah Song’s baseball career is on hold despite a presidential policy 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 permitting military academy athletes to play pro sports immediately after graduation.

The Nov. 8 order signed by Defense Secretary Mark Esper takes effect next year for graduates who delay their commissioning as officers. Song graduated from the Naval Academy in May and is an ensign awaiting orders to report to flight school at Naval Air Station Pensacola.

Song, who currently is stationed at the Naval Academy, applied for a waiver that would have retroactively applied the new rules to his situation. Adm. Michael Gilday, chief of naval operations, recently denied the request.

“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.”

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

The new guidelines stated that athletes with pro aspirations must obtain approval from the Department of Defense. It mandated they eventually fulfill their military obligation or repay the cost of their education.

Trump got involved after the Army football team visited the White House for the formal presentation of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. Trump said 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 his Nov. 8 order, Esper wrote that military service secretaries 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.”

Song was initially scheduled to report to Pensacola in mid-December but now has a tentative date in 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 commitment to 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 Red Sox 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 selection 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 Class A Greenville or Class A-Advanced Salem for 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. “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 Monday after being informed of the news and said his former player was upbeat.

“I think Noah has accepted his fate. He has always wanted to serve and is looking forward to flight school,” Kostacopoulos said.

He 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.

“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.”

Song’s stock rose even further following his strong performance with the United States national team during the World Baseball Softball Confederation Premier 12 Tournament.

A walk-off loss to Mexico in the bronze medal game prevented the United States from qualifying for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. However, Song was outstanding in five relief appearances as a setup man during the tournament in Guadalajara, Mexico and Tokyo. His fastball was clocked at 99 mph, best velocity of any pitcher on Team USA.

It is unclear if the Navy will allow Song to continue his bid to represent the United States in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

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© 2019 The Capital