CLEARWATER, Fla. - This new world is taking some getting used to for Noah Song.
This is, after all, the first time the 25-year-old has ever experienced spring training of any kind, and now he is doing it in a major league clubhouse with major league players. Ask him back at New Year's where he would be at this time of 2023 and his likely response would have been "Japan" thanks to the expected the deployment that came with his service in Naval Aviation.
But, thanks to the Phillies selection in the Rule 5 Draft, and the government's subsequent clearance for Song to reintroduce himself into professional baseball, Song finds himself walking among the defending National League champs, wearing Phillies gear from head to toe.
"It's not how I expected the first one to go," Song said in the Phillies' spring training clubhouse Sunday morning. "If I was even gonna have one, but I think I wouldn't have any other way now."
The euphoria, however, doesn't make the whole scene any less surreal.
It has been since October 2019 since the righty pitcher has faced an actual batter, leaving that world behind following his dominating performance in Tokyo during the WBSC Premier 12 Tournament.
Since then? Song had barely picked up a baseball before Dave Dombrowski plucked him from the Red Sox organization in the Rule 5 process. (The Phillies need to keep Song on the major league roster - even as a member of the injured list on the 40-man roster - or be forced to exposed the hurler to waivers. If no team claims him he would be offered back to the Red Sox.)
"I think I think every year that passed that I was away from the game, I think it became more and more kind of like, 'OK, that's it, there's less chance of it coming, coming back or happening.' Or even if I do go back, there's less chance of success, I guess. But at the same time, it's not something that I ever wanted to give up on. Because, you know, Mitch Harris was in longer than I was, and he's still he was able to come back. So nothing's impossible. And I'm a true believer in that. But at the same time, it's like, I was realistic with myself and saying, 'You know, it's only going to be harder, the longer you are away from the game.'
"I think because, because the focus is so strong, and because we, like aviation, we love our job so much like whether you're pilot or NFL, we just love it, that it's like it kind of allows you to really just enjoy what you're doing and not worry about the fact that you may have not had an opportunity somewhere else. So I kind of like I guess I never really was disappointed by anything."
The true whirlwind over the past few months started in December when he - while sitting in his Pensacola apartment - got a text from his Naval Academy pitching coach informing Song that the Phillies had just plucked him in the Rule 5 Draft.
"I went to my computer and like, looked it up. And everybody said, 'Oh, Phillies Rule 5 Draft,' Then I started taking my edge and trying to figure out what that meant and everything and just kind of the learning process," Song explained.
A few months later, a little while after his expected January deployment to Japan came and went, the twisting and turning process of finally getting cleared to play baseball again was finalized.
The next thing Song knew, he was turning the page from Naval aviator to professional baseball player.
This much Song knows: First, he has no problem identifying "Top Gun: Maverick" as "the best move ever." And, there is a long way to go before finding the stuff he flashed in that only season as a pro baseball player back in 2019.
Song is still seeking the go ahead to start his pitching progression, nursing a bad back. And even when he does uncover that return to a mound, there will be a ways to go.
Put this way: Song's already uncertain story promises at least a few more forks in the road in the coming months.
"I try to respect the fact that there are people who were working for at baseball the whole time while I was working on something else," Song said. " And that's why it's not something that necessarily I feel too comfortable about, in the sense of, I know that I'm not, I know that I'm not ready. I know that I'm not exactly what a rule and a typical Rule 5 Draft (pick). But I just tried to like, be respectful of that and try to keep my head down and kind of and kind of try to earn my keep every day and at least I hope that people understand and that I am trying to progress, no matter what happens. And I'm really OK with how everything turns out even if it means that I'm not on a big league roster or anything. I'm here to try to get to try to come back into baseball. It's not obviously you want to compete and everything but it's the real goal is to try to be reintegrated to baseball."
He added, "I'm not oblivious to the fact that there's la possibility that I can like be returned to Boston and all that. And then I think there's some other stuff with like, waivers and other teams. But to be honest, I try not to look into the details of it. Because one, I don't want to get caught up in like, trying to plan out my future when it's, it's really outside my control as far as if you've done enough. And then, secondly, it doesn't really matter. Because my goal was to come here and try to get better at drawing every day. I don't worry about the Rule 5 (identification) and I don't I don't like being completely ignorant to everything. So I try to try to understand information as people as people presented to me. It's not at the like the forefront of my mind every day, I guess."