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From 5th-round shortstop to Triple-A catcher to Mariners first baseman, Austin Nola makes MLB debut at 29

Austin Nola made his MLB debut with the Mariners on Sunday in his eighth pro season. (Getty)

New Mariners player Austin Nola’s baseball career has been anything but ordinary.

Mariners trade AL home run leader Edwin Encarnación to Yankees

Playing alongside current Yankees infielder D.J. LeMahieu, he helped the LSU Tigers win the College World Series as a freshman shortstop in 2009. He joined the pro ranks in 2012 as a fifth-round pick of the Miami Marlins, but his bat didn’t come along while he toiled as an infielder in the minors.

So ahead of the 2017 season, he made a change.

He became a catcher.

But after his second season behind the plate in 2018 – the same year his younger brother, Aaron, made his first All-Star team as a pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies – Austin Nola became a free agent with his 29th birthday rapidly approaching and no MLB call-up yet to his name.

Enter the Seattle Mariners.

Nola signed with the M’s and reported to Triple-A Tacoma, where he promptly started putting together the best year he has ever had at the plate. In 55 games with the Rainiers, Nola hit .327 with seven home runs (his previous high in a minor league season was six), a .415 on-base percentage and .935 OPS.

With numbers like that, it was only a matter of time before Nola got the call. News broke Saturday night that he was on his way to join the Mariners, which put a smile on the face of the other Nola in the league after his outing on the mound in a Phillies win.

After such a winding road to the show, it was only natural that when the Mariners called Nola up following Saturday’s trade of Edwin Encarnación to the Yankees, they asked him to play… first base.

“I came up in the minor leagues as a shortstop, transitioned to catcher and then now I’m playing first base today,” Nola said to reporters in Oakland on Sunday morning, just before he got the start hitting ninth in Seattle’s lineup against the A’s. “You can’t plan that.”

Seven years after his name was called in the MLB Draft, Nola had to exercise just a little more patience following his arrival in the Bay Area.

“I can’t wait. I’m like, there’s too much waiting around. I want to get going,” he told 710 ESPN Seattle’s Shannon Drayer before Sunday’s game. “That’s what I’ve been doing the whole day, just waiting, waiting, waiting around. Couldn’t sleep too much last night, it was kinda in and out, so that’s been the biggest thing is let’s get this thing on the road here – c’mon.”

Once the game started, he didn’t have to wait long to get some milestones out of the way. He ended the first inning by corralling a sharp ground ball and stepping on the bag for the putout. Then in the third inning, he employed an inside-out swing to get a grounder through the hole for his first major league hit in his first turn at the dish.

On Saturday afternoon, Nola had been mentally preparing at his hotel to catch that night’s game for the Rainiers in Round Rock, Texas. But less than 24 hours later, he was a big leaguer with his first hit and putout under his belt.

And all it took was seven years.

“All of the sudden, snap of a finger, life changes,” Nola said.

Drayer: M’s catchers a bright spot in step-back season