New Orleans, LA (FOX44) — In one exhibition baseball game, Austin Nola got a look at two potential pieces of his future and an important part of his past.
Nola will play for the Single-A Jupiter Hammerheads when their season opens on Thursday. But on Saturday, he was a Miami Marlin for a game against the New Orleans Zephyrs.
"It was awesome," he said of the experience. "It brought back memories of here with LSU, you know? Packed the stands, you got a lot of LSU fans; I see a lot of purple out there, and it's a good feeling to be here."
"Man, it's just surreal," said his father, A.J. "It's just... can't explain it, it's awesome."
Several of Austin Nola's relatives made the drive from Baton Rouge to watch him play. His family saw him play a couple games last season as a minor leaguer, but this was the first time they had watched him represent the Marlins.
"Very proud. Words can't explain it," A.J. Nola said. "It's just, to see him in that Marlins uniform... just excited for him."
The Marlins brought their full roster, including former All-Stars such as Giancarlo Stanton and Placido Polanco. But Nola got the biggest ovations of the day, during introductions and before each of his at bats.
"It's a good feeling for sure," he said. "You can't ask for anything better over here, this is awesome.
Nola's strength right now is his defense, with hitting being a weaker part of his game. In 65 games between two levels, he batted .211 with one home run, 18 runs batted in, and 22 runs scored.
While those statistics are worse than the ones he posted as a Tiger, he is pleased with how the first nine months of his professional career have unfolded.
"I feel great," he said. "I mean, I'm enjoying this, it's a great job to have."
Nola has a lot of confidence in his skills, which earned him All-SEC and All-America honors at LSU, and believes he will reach the big leagues.
"Obviously, every day, learning," he said of his biggest challenge. "It's a learning experience here, it's a learning experience everywhere I go, every level. And I just know that I need to go out there and I need to play my best, give it my best, and I think the rest will take care of itself. I think I have the talent to make it there, it's just the work ethic that's going to continue to have to get better."
He still follows the Tigers closely, in part because younger brother Aaron is a sophomore pitcher and one of the best players on the roster. They talk a lot, and were able to spend time together during the offseason.
As much as the talent level is higher in professional baseball, Austin Nola said life off the diamond has been just as big an adjustment.
"You gotta be able to manage your time, you gotta do the right things in every little thing," he stated. "Because you're on your own now and you've gotta focus much more than you do at LSU, because you got a lot of people on your back, a lot of people trying to tell you what to do. Now, it's on your own."
A.J. Nola said his older son thrives under the structure of the game.
"He's at his best when he's on the field, and practicing, and drilling and doing all that kind of stuff," he stated. "So it's probably a little harder off the field."
If Austin Nola continues to impress, a promotion to Triple-A is possible during the 2014 season. A chance to play for the Zephyrs, so close to home, is one of his goals.
"I love New Orleans, I love the people of LSU and Baton Rouge, and I couldn't ask for a better place to be," he said.
But only on a temporary basis. His biggest goal is not to see "Nola" on the front of a Zephyrs jersey, but to see it once again on the back of Marlins jersey.