It isn’t normally a baseball tradition to trade jerseys with an opponent after a game, but don’t be surprised if Austin Nola does just does that Saturday.
Nola, the Baton Rouge native and former LSU shortstop, is coming home — or close to it — with the Miami Marlins, who will be taking on the New Orleans Zephyrs Saturday at 1 p.m. in a spring training exhibition game at Zephyr Field.
And for Nola, it likely will be a little surreal to see his opponents wearing his name on the Zephyrs’ traditional blue jerseys with “NOLA” printed on the chest.
“We might have to arrange a little uniform switch after the game,” said Brian Chattin, the Marlin’s Director of Player Development. “Take a few pictures.”
To Nola, it makes no difference what uniform he wears. Just the fact that he’s wearing one every day is just about enough. Less than a year after graduating from LSU, Nola is an up-and-coming prospect in the Marlins’ organization.
“It hasn’t really settled in that it’s a job yet,” Nola said. “I’m just looking at it that, I get to play baseball every day. That’s really the biggest adjustment, playing every day. In college, you play three, maybe four days a week. In pro ball, you get to play every single day. It’s a big adjustment.”
It has been a whirlwind couple of months for the 23-year old out of Catholic High. In less than a year he has gone from an outstanding college player and student-athlete to minor league prospect. He was still an LSU Tiger — at practice, no less — when he was drafted in the fifth round (167th pick overall) by the Marlins. Just a few weeks later, he was shipped off to Jamestown, N.Y., to join the Jamestown Jammers, then the Single-A affiliate of the Marlins. A few weeks after that he joined the Greensboro Grasshoppers.
In 65 games he put together a .211 batting average with 48 hits, 10 doubles, one home run and 18 RBIs.
He spent spring training in Jupiter where he’s working hard to improve his skills to help him climb the minor league ladder.
“I feel great,” he said. “I feel like I’m playing hard and working hard enough for them to see what I’m capable of. I know what I do well, but there are many things I discovered in spring training that I have to get better at. So many things. My base running, just learning the game.”
Nola said he’s also trying to get used to the schedule of all day baseball.
“It’s just wall to wall baseball,” he said.
It seems to be working. Chattin said bringing Nola to NOLA for Saturday’s exhibition game was an easy decision for team officials. Which roster he would be on was not. Early in the week Nola was supposed to be a Zephyr — and would get to wear his name on his chest. Later in the week, Chattin said Nola would be suited up as a Marlin.
“Austin was a player that was a definite fit for us,” Chattin said. “He’s extremely talented.”
Nola said he can’t wait to come home to Louisiana, to see family and friends and give them the opportunity to see him. But little brother Aaron, now a pitcher for LSU, is on the road in Missouri with the Tigers.
“It’s awesome to be able to go home and see so many family and friends who support me,” Nola said. “I’ve had a lot of good people in and around New Orleans who have helped me. Everybody’s excited. Everybody’s excited just to be breaking spring training.”
Chattin said the rosters for both teams likely would be set before the team’s departure from Miami — with an exception or two. The Marlins and Zephyrs were to fly together to New Orleans. After the game, Marlins players will leave New Orleans and fly to Washington, D.C., where they will open the season against the Nationals. The Zephyrs players will remain behind. Those players being assigned to Double A and Single A will go back to Florida. Nola is expected to be among those headed back to Florida.
Nola said the final week of spring training was trying for many of the players, some of whom did not yet know where they were headed.
“There’s a lot of anxiety,” he said. “We should know where we’re going by the end of the week, but everybody’s kind of walking on eggshells around here waiting to see. Everybody’s working real hard trying to make that final push, you know. But it’s on a lot of people’s minds. It’s exhausting.”