Former Catholic High and LSU pitcher Aaron Nola allowed a sit-down interview on his final night in Baton Rouge before heading to Florida for his first spring training.
Nola was a first round pick of Philadelphia in the Major League Baseball draft and talked about adjusting to pro ball with the Phillies organization. He spent his first season as a pro with the Reading, PA Fighting Phils in the AA Minor League.
"I think everybody in Pennsylvania thought Louisiana was swamp, that I lived in a swamp," Nola said.
Nola is headed to south Florida, another state known for swamps, but he didn't get invited to go last week with the major league club, even though he was the team's top draft pick.
"If they want to take their time with me, that's okay. I need some more innings," Nola said.
He split last summer between Class A Clearwater and AA Reading with a combined 4-3 record and 2.93 ERA. He credits his success up to this point to three LSU seasons with Alan Dunn, who had 20 years coaching pro ball before arriving in Baton Rouge.
"It helped a lot. I was very fortunate and blessed that my first year at LSU was his. I didn't really reach out myself and actually learn as much as I should have, but once I got to pro ball, it was pretty much me and the catcher, so I really had to learn with the catcher and learn the hitters and scout the guys. It's high tech. It's not just pen and paper and the guys' names. You can usually hook it up to the iPad and look at all the games and watch yourself against certain guys," Nola explained.
At least one scout told Philly.com he wasn't surprised Nola didn't go to camp with the major leaguers because he has yet to show a ‘plus' pitch.
"I don't know. My pitches kind of eased off for some reason. I guess I was trying too hard to perfect stuff and now I feel like I'm starting new again and I have everything under my belt again. At the end of the day, for me, it's always about executing my pitches," Nola added.
Was your facial hair for effect to intimidate hitters?
"You know. I've never grown (a goatee) out before and I think I needed to try it. I think I'll stay clean shaven this year," Nola stated.
Besides facial hair, another new facet to Nola's game was holding a bat.
"They handed me a bat. They said, 'Come on, you're coming to hit.' I was like, 'Okay. I haven't done this in three years.' I was in high school and it looked a little harder than high school," Nola admitted.
He handled it just fine, bunting for a base hit and scoring a run in his first pro at-bat, just like he was back at Catholic High. He wishes he could say the same when he gets up to the other plate.
"The cooking, oh absolutely. It's very different here than up north, very different," Nola said with a grin.
"I'll probably have to bring my own Tony's when I go back up to Pennsylvania," he said.
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