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Get To Know Your Mariners: How Austin Nola found change he needed

Mariners spring training is full of names and faces you may recognize, some belonging to players who for the most part have yet to have a chance to make an impression to fans and others who have a chance to make a new first impression. That’s where our new series comes in.

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Shannon Drayer, Mariners insider for 710 ESPN Seattle, is catching up with the highly touted prospects, recent acquisitions and more under-the-radar players in Peoria, Ariz., throughout spring training to provide insight into who are the 2020 Mariners are beyond.

Catcher and utility player Austin Nola joins Shannon in this installment to talk about finally cracking the big leagues in 2018 after eight years as a pro, finding a passion for catching after switching from the middle of the infield and much more.

Austin Nola’s big league debut with the Mariners – and his play that followed – might be one of the most unappreciated stories of Seattle’s 2019 season.

After being granted free agency by the Miami Marlins, who drafted him in 2012, Nola signed with the Mariners six days later in November 2018. The signing barely moved the needle on the interest meter, brushed off as the addition of another utility infielder. Perhaps there was a little intrigue when the utility infielder was catching in 2019 spring training, however, but true notice didn’t happen until later in Nola’s season at Triple-A when he started putting up numbers that were large even when you take the new baseball into consideration. Nola was forcing his way into finally getting his big league call-up at 29 years old.

If you follow the Mariners then you know what came next. Nola put up solid numbers in his call-up and did so playing every position but shortstop and center field. While he only got four starts behind the plate, he earned him his first spring training in nine years where he could focus on getting ready for the season rather than making the club. That was thanks to the combination of his numbers, what was seen at Triple-A and what Mariners manager Scott Servais and the coaches saw behind the scenes in his time with the big club.

The result: We are going to see a lot of Austin Nola in 2020.

Below and in the video above is an opportunity to get to know Nola a little better. Who he is off the field and what enabled him to persevere through eight minor league seasons and finally earn a spot. That doesn’t just happen and it doesn’t often happen without a lot of change along the way, with the biggest for Nola coming two years ago. It wasn’t a mechanical change, rather a mindset.

“Coming up I was one of those who I would work and work and work until I didn’t know what I was working for,” he said. “I would always complain that it was one of the only sports where you could take 1,000 swings a day, and if you did it wrong, you would only get worse. I always complained about that and I had to let go of the complaining part and say I need to take ownership of my career and what I need to do by looking at the things that I need to do to get better.”

Along the way he took the advice of a trusted coach who said that the former LSU shortstop’s days of having a shot at a middle of the infield job in the big leagues was probably over. Had he considered catching? Perhaps there was a path to the bigs there. Nola started catching bullpens, got to catch a few games in fall ball and eventually got to the point where he could be put behind the plate. In the video, Nola tells the story of the moment he finally knew he was a catcher. Talk to Nola about catching and you hear the passion he has for the position. The story of when he came to that realization is no exception.

Baseball was pretty much the center of the universe for Austin and his younger brother Aaron, an All-Star pitcher for the Phillies. They grew up within walking distance of the LSU campus. How many games did they attend? All of them.

“We looked up to the LSU baseball players as major leaguers,” said Nola. “Those guys were like the real deal. Getting to go to a game and seeing a LSU Tiger, like meet one of them was phenomenal.”

Before and after games the brothers would spend hours playing catch and fielding in their backyard. When the weather turned poor they would move the throwing sessions indoors, throwing from one end of the house to the other.

“We would have to have our throwing addiction,” Austin said. “We would throw it to the chest. Make it a game from the farthest end of the house through all the pictures. It really helped for being accurate. We never broke anything. If we didn’t have baseball we would throw oranges, lemons and play the game. We just have a love of baseball, of sports and competition. It was awesome.”

In addition for a love of baseball, Nola has a love of Cajun cuisine.

“Near and dear is the gumbo to my heart.”

He’s mastered the gumbo but not without some mishaps. In the video we talk roux, the shortage of wooden spoons and much, much more. It was a fun yet thoughtful conversation from start to finish.

Let’s get to know Austin Nola a little better.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

More from Shannon’s Get To Know Your Mariners series

• Patrick Wisdom has long history with Marco Gonzales
• Logan Gilbert’s swift rise up the ranks
• Dan Altavilla looking for healthy, productive 2020
• Cal Raleigh has been on the baseball path since Day 1
• OF Jake Fraley could be the gem of Zunino trade
• If anyone can relate to top Mariners prospects, it’s Taijuan Walker
• Julio Rodriguez looks the part of future superstar on and off the field

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