It's one thing to honor the military as an athlete by saluting a family member deployed overseas or giving time to charities that benefit the troops.
It's quite another to actually serve.
Top Red Sox prospect Noah Song is the rare pro athlete who fits the latter description. He might be soaring to a spot in the big leagues right now, but instead he's attending Navy flight school as a commissioned officer whose professional baseball career will remain on hold until at least May, when Song becomes eligible to seek early release from active duty in exchange for a six-year commitment to the Naval Reserve.
It briefly appeared that Song might be able to defer his service under a new Department of Defense policy allowing pro athletes to pursue their athletic careers before honoring their military commitments, but the change was not made in time to benefit Song, who must abide by the old rules.
He had requested a waiver to join the Reserves, but once he realized the new policy would not retroactively apply to him, he withdrew it last spring to attend flight school.
"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," Song said in a statement announcing his Naval service. "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."
When Song does return to the baseball field, he'll bring an impressive skill set to the Red Sox farm system. Selected in the fourth round of the 2019 draft out of the Naval Academy, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound right-hander debuted with a bang, posting a 1.06 ERA at short-season Lowell with 19 strikeouts in 17 innings. He then joined the U.S. national team for the Premier12 tournament, where he turned heads with a quick tempo, pinpoint command, and a 98-mph fastball.
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Team USA earned a bronze medal, and Song was the best pitcher in red, white and blue, striking out six over five scoreless relief appearances. Those handful of innings were enough for Baseball America to name him Boston's No. 9 prospect.
There's a chance that he doesn't return to baseball until 2022, since it would be rare for an ensign to be released in the middle of two-year flight school, per the Capital Gazette. The Red Sox understand his commitment is bigger than baseball.
"I can't tell you how much respect I have for both how Noah balanced his amateur career as an athlete and as a future member of the military, and how he's tried to approach this so far," said Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. "It's easy to see why everybody thought so highly of him in the draft, and however this goes, my respect for him is through the roof."
As for Song, whenever his baseball career resumes, he won't lose sight of the big picture.
"The Navy allowed me to participate in minor league baseball, and to compete for Team USA in the months following my commissioning, and I am grateful for that opportunity," Song said in the statement. "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. I place an incredible amount of personal value in serving my country, and doing so in a meaningful way."