Nola feeling right at home in New Orleans

Marlins prospect proud to display name on front of his jersey

Louisiana State product Austin Nola is batting .310 in his first 33 games for New Orleans. (Parker Waters/New Orleans Zephyrs)

By Benjamin Hill / MiLB.com | August 3, 2015 11:30 AM

Ben's Biz

The New Orleans Zephyrs don't always feature player names on the backs of their jerseys. Austin Nola, however, has his on the front.

Nola, a 25-year-old shortstop, made his Triple-A debut June 28 playing for, yes, NOLA. The Zephyrs often take the field in jerseys that read "NOLA" across the front, a designation -- short for New Orleans, Louisiana -- that rose to prominence as a show of pride in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Nola, the Miami Marlins' fifth-round pick in the 2012 Draft, opened the 2015 campaign with the Double-A Jacksonville Suns. He has now spent a little more than a month with the Zephyrs, with whom he has compiled a .310 (as of Sunday) batting average.

"I haven't been here long enough to get tired of it. It's been fun," said Nola, of the name/city connection. "We haven't played that many home games yet. I like New Orleans, I'd never really experienced it, but now I'm starting to. It's a very unique culture, a distinct world, and I'm enjoying it."

That said, Nola is a Louisiana guy through and through. He was born in Baton Rouge and went on to play -- and excel -- collegiately at Louisiana State University. On the 2012 LSU team, he was joined by his younger brother Aaron, a pitcher who made his Major League debut for the Philadelphia Phillies on July 21.


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"It's an Italian name," said Nola, of Nola. "My great-grandparents, they came over from Sicily and settled in Baton Rouge. So I'm third-generation, I guess."

While attending LSU, Nola began to notice that fans were wearing "NOLA" shirts as a way to simultaneously pay tribute to both Austin Nola and New Orleans.

"When I started playing at LSU, it was like putting two and two together," said Nola, of the NOLA shirts. "I think in the [2009] College World Series is when the fans started doing that."

The Zephyrs front office is following suit, as "NOLA Nola" T-shirts -- or is that the other way around? -- will soon be available at the team store and online.

"I don't even know if there was a brain-storming session -- it was just too obvious," said Zephyrs media relations director Dave Sachs of the T-shirts. "July 4 was when [Nola] made his home debut. We didn't have his walk-up music yet, but we played the LSU fight song and [Zephyr Field] just erupted, the loudest it's been all year. ... The whole name thing helped endear him to LSU fans, and then he turned out to be really good and helped them win the [2009 College World Series] title. And it's just kept going from there."

That Nola went on to get drafted by the Marlins and play for the Zephyrs -- the only Minor League team in the state of Louisiana -- is an improbable coincidence that can't help but bolster his already impeccable home-state credentials. But, of course, Nola's ultimate goal is to leave NOLA behind. Should he receive the callup to Miami, he'd find himself an NL East divisional rival of younger brother Aaron. So who would win in the long-awaited battle of Nola vs. Nola?

"I don't know," said Nola, laughing. "It'd be tough. That'd be a lot of fun. There's some bragging rights there… You know baseball -- pitchers win seven out of 10 times, batters three or less. It's definitely in his favor, but being the older brother, I'm going to have to find a way to turn the tide a little bit."

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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