Aaron Nola is living the life of a minor league baseball player.
Take, for instance, his daily routine.
He leaves his room at the La Quinta Inn, walks next door to Lenny’s Restaurant for breakfast, then makes the stroll one block north to Bright House Field, the Clearwater Threshers’ home.
And on his days off?
“Beach is 15 minutes away. Take a cab,” he said during a phone interview this past week.
The former LSU ace and Catholic High star is adjusting to life as a professional, where mostly everyone starts near the bottom and must work his way to the top.
Nola is no different.
“Nothing’s guaranteed,” he said. “You got to earn your way.”
He’s starting what many believe will be an all-star career in Clearwater, Florida, where the Philadelphia Phillies’ Advanced Single-A team is based. He’s living in a hotel room with Chris Oliver, a fellow Clearwater pitcher and former Arkansas hurler.
He’s making $1,100 a month, has no vehicle and spends most of his day at the ballpark or the beach.
“You play baseball in the minor leagues,” said Nola’s father, A.J. “Everybody has to rough it.”
Things will get better soon. Nola is moving into an apartment in July, and his father is driving the 700 miles down next week from Baton Rouge in his son’s 2001 Toyota Tundra. He’ll fly back and leave the truck.
Eventually, Aaron may buy himself a new vehicle. After all, he can afford it. Despite his modest beginnings in pro ball, Nola signed a contract with the Phillies spanning seven years and including a $3.39 million bonus.
The money hasn’t rolled in just yet, A.J. said. Half of it will arrive in mid-July — 30 days after his signing — and the rest in January.
It’ll go straight in the bank.
“Mom and Dad have a put-it-away deal for that,” A.J. said. “Those guys with them contracts, $1,100 a month, they know it’s only for food and housing and a little bit of play. It’s enough for him to get by.”
Nola made his pro debut Monday and is slated to make his next start Tuesday, his Clearwater home debut.
He coasted through the first two innings of his first start before unraveling in the third. He left a change-up high in the zone, and Lakeland’s James Robbins knocked it out for a solo home run. It was the start of a five-run inning, Nola’s last of the game.
Clearwater lost 5-2, and Nola took the loss.
“These guys are good,” Nola said. “This is probably a little better than the (Southeastern Conference).”
Nola had been scheduled for his next start Saturday, but he was in Lubbock, Texas, with both parents to accept the award after being named the College Baseball Hall of Fame’s National Pitcher of the Year.
It’s just one of many honors for a guy who had arguably the best three-year career of any LSU pitcher. A two-time SEC Pitcher of the Year, Nola finished 30-6 with a 2.09 ERA in 332 innings with 42 walks and 345 strikeouts. He is No. 3 on the LSU career list for strikeouts, No. 4 for ERA and No. 5 for wins.
Phillies scouting director Marti Wolever said Nola’s fastball ultimately sold the organization.
“He can command his fastball, and he can throw to both sides of plate,” he said.
Many experts believe Nola will move through the minor leagues more quickly than any other pitcher drafted this year.
The Phillies haven’t specified when Nola could make the move up to Double-A and beyond, but already there are rumblings that it could come quick. A.J. Nola said organization executives told the family that it’s “possible” Nola could move to the Phillies’ Double-A affiliate in Reading, Pennsylvania, later this year.
For now, the Nolas have stumbled upon the luck of having their two sons just four hours apart. Shortstop Austin Nola is playing in Jacksonville, Florida, with the Miami Marlins’ Double-A team.
“For how long that will last, I don’t know,” A.J. said.
Aaron isn’t worried. He’s adapting to life near the bottom of the food chain — for now.
“My head’s not anywhere else,” he said. “It’s not in Double-A, Triple-A or whatever.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.