The Nola Brothers Are Keeping Their Parents on the Move
SAN DIEGO — The game was over and another flight awaited. This one was a red eye, and maybe there could be some shut-eye after another exhilarating afternoon of high-wire baseball, lead changes and momentum shifts.
No, not for Aaron Nola’s Philadelphia Phillies.
And not for Austin Nola’s San Diego Padres.
It is their parents who are swimming in logistics, losing sleep and logging an impressive amount of frequent flier miles this October. As they headed to another airport late Wednesday, this one back to Philadelphia after San Diego’s series-evening 8-5 win that had “Nola” stamped all over it, A.J. and Stacie Nola are becoming as familiar with flight attendants and luggage carousels as they are with box seats and ball-strike counts.
“Whirlwind,” A.J. Nola said. “It’s been a whirlwind. More traveling than I ever have done in my entire life.”
So far this month their itinerary has routed them from home in Baton Rouge, La. to New York to see Austin’s Padres in a wild-card series against the Mets. Then they were off to St. Louis to see Aaron start a game in the Phillies-Cardinals wild-card series before heading back home for a couple of days. They were back in Philadelphia for the Phillies’ division series against Atlanta, then back home before heading to San Diego for the N.L.C.S. And they’re still on the move.
“It has been a fantastic experience,” A.J. Nola said. “I could go on and on, but it’s amazing. It’s an amazing feeling. The boys have worked really hard for this moment, and I’m so doggone proud. Words cannot even begin to describe how proud I am.”
On Wednesday, A.J. Nola was wearing a brown Padres jersey with a white, pinstriped Phillies jersey over it. The Phillies jersey was open so the San Diego top was visible. Stacie was simply wearing a blue top with blue shorts.
“I’m neutral,” she said.
Neutral, perhaps, but nervous. Both parents agreed that while A.J. keeps calm and stays locked in on the game, Stacie is the parent who agonizes.
“I always said that if she was a smoker, she’d smoke two packs of cigarettes per game watching her boys,” A.J. said. “Thank God she isn’t.”
Only five times before in postseason history have siblings been on opposing teams, the most recent being when Sandy Alomar Jr. (Cleveland) and the Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar (Baltimore) faced each other in a 1996 American League division series and again in the 1997 A.L.C.S.
Game 2 here on Wednesday was the first time in postseason history that siblings faced each other as a batter and as a pitcher.
Aaron, three-and-a-half years younger, retired Austin on a ground ball to third base in the second. But Austin got revenge, and then some, by lining an 0 and 2 sinker into right field on a beautiful run-and-hit play as Ha-Seong Kim took off from first base and scampered all around the bases to score. It was a key moment in San Diego’s five-run outburst in the fifth that turned the game around. The Padres sent 11 batters to the plate in the rally and sent Aaron Nola to the showers.
Afterward, Austin intimated that he may have a Christmas idea for his brother from this day but said he would have to see how the rest of the series goes first. Before Wednesday, Austin was 1 for 6 against his brother. Aaron struck him out the first time they faced each other, then wrapped up that ball and presented it to Austin as a Christmas present.
“Austin just started laughing,” Stacie said. “He said, ‘I knew you were going to do that.’”
“I think I gave it to my dog,” Austin joked of the ball at a news conference the other day.
Both boys played college ball at Louisiana State, Austin for four seasons and Aaron for three. The Tigers won the College World Series in 2009, Austin’s freshman season.
A.J. coached both as kids through their freshman years of high school. It was clear early that each was gifted. Their careers “really took off at L.S.U.,” he said.
“When I was in high school I’d go watch his Little League games,” Austin said of his brother. “He always dominated, but I was like, it’s Little League, right? There’s no way he could do this at the varsity level in high school.
“Then he comes and pitches against us and breaks my bat and strikes the next two guys out and I’m like, ‘This kid is good. He’s really good.’”
Austin is the more outgoing of the two, according to their mother.
“Austin is the big jokester. He’s very vocal,” Stacie said. “Aaron is more quiet, unless you’re talking to him about his Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van. He redid the whole inside, and they travel in it. Him, his fiancé and their two dogs. He’ll talk for days on end about that.”
Joe Musgrove, who will start Game 3 on Friday night for the Padres, spent much of the winter working out in San Diego with Austin Nola. Aaron visited for about a month and joined their workouts.
“I love that guy, man,” Musgrove said. “Both of those brothers are incredible people. I actually learned quite a bit from Aaron when he was out here.”
It’s one thing to exchange insider information in the dead of winter. But what the Nolas, Musgrove and everybody else couldn’t have known back then is the extremely high stakes they would be playing for here in October.
When he was asked before Game 2 whether Austin would be leading the Padres’ pregame hitters meeting to offer tips on the starting pitcher, Manager Bob Melvin smiled. He immediately referenced San Diego’s 1-0 win over Philadelphia on June 24, a game in which Austin singled home the only run against his brother. That, too, was an M.L.B. first — a 1-0 shutout win in which the lone run was driven home by one brother against another.
“Well, I’ll tell you, I think until last game, he would have told you he shouldn’t run it,” Melvin said. “He got his first hit off him in a huge situation.”
One person in the Phillies’ dugout — heck, one person in all of a sold-out Petco Park — could relate to the emotions the Nolas were going through on Wednesday. Nick Maton, an infielder traveling with the club but not on Philadelphia’s postseason roster, faced his brother during the last series of the regular season earlier this month. And he lined a single into right field against Houston reliever Phil Maton.
“It was a cool moment, and I’m sure they felt the same way I did,” Nick Maton said. “It was a really cool experience to stand there and look out and see your brother. It was really exciting for me. It upped the intensity.
“I can’t imagine what it would be like in the playoffs.”
Entering Wednesday, Aaron Nola had thrown 10,188 fastballs in his career, with only nine of them clocked at 95.9 miles an hour or higher. Of those, three came when facing Austin in August of last season.
“I want to beat him,” Aaron said. “I want to go to the next round and let him go home.”
The boys’ parents spent last Saturday celebrating the Phillies’ advancing into the N.L.C.S. in Philadelphia, then returned to their hotel to watch the Padres play the Dodgers. A.J. Nola said it was around 2 a.m. Eastern time when the importance of the Padres’ winning dawned on him.
“I looked at my wife and said to her, ‘One of our kids is going to be in the World Series,” he said.
Fortunately, A.J. owns his own remodel/construction business back home and Stacie does not work, so the Nolas have had the flexibility to chase their sons’ pursuit that has become a family dream.
“He’s probably only worked about three days in the past three weeks,” Stacie said.
And don’t even ask about sleep.
“Terrible,” A.J. said. “Here’s what I’m banking on, one of two scenarios: If the Padres win, I want the Astros to win the American League because we live only about a four-hour drive from Houston.
“If Philadelphia wins, I want the Yankees to win because then the World Series would be just a train ride.”