Marlins prospect Austin Nola wins Fall League’s Stenson Sportsmanship Award
Austin Nola walked away from the Arizona Fall League with a ring after the Mesa Solar Sox defeated the Surprise Saguaros in the championship game; however, before the game began, Nola was honored for his actions off the field as the recipient of the 2016 Arizona Fall League Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award.
"With the name, the tradition and the people who have received this award before me, I was completely taken back and humbled because I know that there are teammates and players in the entire AFL who deserved it," said Nola. "I was lucky to get this award and I am very honored to be a part of this tradition."
The Stenson Sportsmanship Award was established in 2004 in memory of Dernell Stenson who was killed in the midst of the 2003 AFL season. The award is bestowed annually to the player that most emulates Stenson’s qualities of unselfishness, hard work and leadership––qualities that Nola strives to be remembered for.
"Relationships last a lot longer than what you ever did in the game. I think that a long-lasting legacy is all about how you treat your teammates and how strong those relationships are bound," said Nola.
Solar Sox manager Ryan Christenson nominated Nola for the award in appreciation of the professionalism and leadership he displayed throughout the fall league.
Despite playing a total of eight games during the AFL as a part of Mesa’s Taxi Squad, players who are only eligible for play two days a week, Nola left a lasting impression on coaches and teammates.
"He’s the best teammate that anyone could ask for. If you ever need anything, you just ask him and he’s there. He’s the first one there and the last one to leave. It’s paying off for him," said Marlins teammate Brian Anderson.
Nola played baseball at Louisiana State University, where he was a part of the 2009 national championship team. The prospect led LSU’s philanthropic efforts, named to the SEC Community Service Team in 2011 and 2012.
Under the disciplined coaching of LSU baseball coach, Paul Mainieri, Nola was given the opportunity to become a leader.
"He’s the poster child of our program," said Mainieri. "It fit him like a glove."
Mainieri’s coaching regime emphasizes an unselfish mentality in which players are motivated to acknowledge, appreciate and build upon their God-given talents. Because of Nola’s upbringing and the values that were instilled in him prior to his four years at LSU, he led by example, enhancing the reputation of LSU’s baseball program as a unit.
"As a college baseball coach, you have the opportunity to be a molder of young men. That’s why I went into coaching––to impact young lives and push players to be their best selves," said Mainieri. "If all of our players were like Austin Nola, I wouldn’t have a worry in the world."
Upon his call-up to the Low-A Greensboro Grasshoppers after signing with the Marlins in the fifth round of the 2012 draft, his lessons learned at LSU earned Nola a nickname.
"It was mid-season and the team was over it, just wanting to get to the end of the season. When I came up, I did stretch right while they were walking through it and they called me ‘The Captain’ from there. It stuck," said Nola.
Throughout a 5-year, 566-game professional career, Nola continues to stay resilient and positive through long minor league seasons as he puts his opportunity with the Marlins organization into perspective.
"I enjoy it. I enjoy coming out here every day and getting to work. I get to play a kids game. I get to play baseball and get paid for it. I get to be around really good people, coaches and players," said Nola.
Nola’s hard work is paying off. On Nov. 18, the prospect was added to Miami’s 40-man roster in protection from next month’s Rule 5 Draft where he is one step closer in joining his younger brother, Phillies’ pitcher Aaron Nola in the show––a dream matchup that the two have been preparing for since childhood.
As Nola’s advancement personifies, there will always be a place in the game for natural-born leaders who play the game the right way and who are unselfish in their pursuit of greatness.
"I want to be remembered for being a good teammate. I’m here to help others––that’s number one," said Nola.