Former Navy baseball standout Noah Song has received his marching orders.
Song has been ordered to report to flight school at Naval Air Station Pensacola no later than June 26. That decision, issued by the Department of Defense, puts Song’s dream of playing professional baseball for the Boston Red Sox on hold for at least a year, if not longer.
In a letter sent to Song, a United States Navy official emphasized that becoming an aviator entails a six-year service commitment upon completing flight school and obtaining wings.
Song graduated from the Naval Academy and was commissioned as a naval flight officer on May 24, 2019. The right-handed pitcher was then selected by the Red Sox in the fourth round of the 2019 Major League Baseball Draft on June 4.
Since he was on temporary assignment duty at the Naval Academy while awaiting orders to report to flight school, Song was allowed to spend two months playing minor league baseball last summer. The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder was impressive while pitching for the Lowell Spinners, the organization’s affiliate in the short-season New-York Penn League at the low Class A level.
In October, Song submitted a waiver request to the Department of Defense seeking a transfer to the Navy Reserve so he could continue his professional baseball career during the 2020 season.
Around the same time, Song was granted permission to play for the United States national team in an Olympic-qualifying tournament. According to many scouts, Song was the best pitcher on Team USA during the World Baseball-Softball Confederation Premier 12 Tournament.
After the United States was eliminated by Japan, Song returned to the Naval Academy and was assigned to the Division of Leadership Education and Development. That department is led by Capt. Ryan Bernacchi, a career aviator who once served as commander of the Navy Flight Demonstration Squad — commonly known as the Blue Angels.
In April, after waiting six months for the Department of Defense to rule on his waiver request, Song changed his mind. The Claremont, California native submitted an updated request to pursue flight training after all.
Song made that decision after learning a new Department of Defense policy permitting service academy graduates to pursue professional sports immediately following graduation could not retroactively be applied to his situation.
In November, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper formally signed Directive-Type Memorandum-19-011 that was titled “Military Service Academy Graduates Seeking to Participate in Professional Sports.”
“The original waiver, which requested the ability to continue my service by transferring my commission to the Navy Reserves and concurrently pursuing a professional baseball career with the Red Sox organization, gave me the best chance to make it to the major leagues,” Song said in a statement issued through the Naval Academy public affairs office.
“However, I understand transferring immediately into the reserves is unlikely because the law and policy in my case do not permit it,” Song continued.
Esper’s order requires athletes under contract with a professional franchise to apply for a waiver delaying their military commitment. Individuals approved for the policy by the secretary of defense would not be commissioned as officers until their playing careers concluded.
Athletes allowed to pursue pro sports must eventually fulfill their five-year military obligation or repay the government the cost of their college education.
Song does not qualify for that new policy since he is a commissioned officer currently serving on active duty. However, the 2019 Patriot League Pitcher of the Year and consensus first team All-American remains eligible for a long-standing Department of Defense policy that allows service academy graduates under contract with a professional sports franchise to apply for early release after serving two years of active duty.
That policy, which has enabled numerous service academy graduates to pursue pro football or baseball, typically requires a six-year commitment to the Navy Reserve.
Naval Academy officials repeatedly referred to that policy when responding to questions from The Capital regarding Song’s situation. Commander Alana Garas, public affairs officer at the academy, said Song can seek early release from his active duty commitment in May 2021.
“Ensign Noah Song is prohibited from being released from his active duty service obligation in order to play professional baseball by law and policy,” Garas said in a statement.
“Additionally, the Department of Defense policy on military service academy graduates seeking to participate in professional sports, which was released in November 2019, is not applicable to already commissioned officers. Ensign Song was commissioned in May 2019 so that policy does not apply to him or provide him any relief from the law,” Garas added.
Training to be designated as a naval flight officer typically lasts approximately 18 months. It begins with aviation indoctrination at Naval Air Station Pensacola and continues with specialized training for whichever aircraft platform the service member is assigned.
If Song’s training starts this summer, he would not be designated as a naval flight officer until sometime in 2022. However, he could receive his wings as an aviator after about a year of training.
Several former Naval aviators contacted for this article said it would be extremely rare for a service member to be granted early release midway through flight training.
Vice Admiral Sean Buck, Superintendent of the Naval Academy, in a statement said “the Navy has made great efforts to support his baseball goals within the constraints imposed by law and policy.”
“The Navy provided him the opportunity to play minor league baseball for the Red Sox last summer and compete internationally in Mexico and Japan for Team USA,” Buck wrote. “The Naval Academy is proud of what Ensign Song has accomplished and is hopeful he will achieve his goals as a naval officer and professional baseball player.”
Song was dominant while pitching for the Lowell Spinners last summer, posting a 1.06 ERA after allowing just two runs in seven starts. The 23-year-old notched 19 strikeouts and allowed just five walks in 17 innings while being kept on a strict pitch count after a long collegiate season. He gave up 10 hits and held opponents to a .167 batting average.
Song turned heads while working as a reliever for the United States national team, consistently throwing his fastball between 97 and 100 MPH while also displaying strong command of several off-speed pitches.
Due largely to his performance with Lowell and for Team USA, Song is rated the No. 9 overall prospect in the Red Sox organization by Baseball America.
The Red Sox did not respond to a request for comment about Song being ordered to attend flight school. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 minor league baseball season has been delayed indefinitely.
If Song is granted early release in May 2021, he plans to eventually return to active duty with the hope of resuming training to obtain his wings.
“If I were somehow allowed to transfer into the reserves, I would have every intention of serving on active duty after my time with baseball ends,” Song wrote in his statement. “I place an incredible amount of personal value in serving my country and doing so in a meaningful way.
“I am fortunate to have two ‘Plan As’ in life: I want to serve my country as a naval aviator and play baseball for the Red Sox. I will continue to do all I can to accomplish both, and I sincerely appreciate the support I have received from the Navy and the Red Sox in reaching those goals.”
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