‘Wherever they want to play, I’ll play’: Phillies ace Aaron Nola on MLB shutdown life, baseball’s return and more


Philadelphia Phillies star Aaron Nola is spending the coronavirus pandemic shutdown in Clearwater, Florida, where his team normally holds spring training. Between workouts with a few teammates, he spoke with ESPN.com about the numerous charities he has been involved with during the coronavirus crisis, as well as how he’s staying busy and his thoughts on the status of the 2020 season.

You and your girlfriend are holed up in Clearwater, Florida, where the Phillies train. How’s it going for you guys?

Aaron Nola: It’s been weird, but it’s been kind of peaceful. I haven’t had this time off since I started playing baseball probably. And it’s weird because we don’t have a start date in sight yet. I’ve been trying to keep my body in shape and throw as best I can.

How are you keeping busy?

AN: A lot of TV and getting outside a little bit. The weather has been outstanding here, so you try to cherish those good days with your loved ones. We know this won’t last forever, so we’re trying to take the positives during this time off.

What are you watching on TV?

AN: Mostly Netflix. We like this show, “Ultimate Survival Alaska.” I’ve been to Alaska, so I can understand what they’re doing, and we can learn from those hikers and climbers and how they survive. I’ve heard about “Tiger King.” I’ll get around to watching it.

How do you stay in baseball shape right now?

AN: We still have a couple of guys that stayed back — Nick Pivetta and Spencer Howard — so I throw with them in a big, open field next to the stadium. Then I’ll work out in my garage, and I’ll go run around my complex every now and then. I stay active with what I have.

That sounds similar to early spring workouts.

AN: Yeah, or even pre-spring. That’s basically where we are right now.

That brings me to the question of being game-ready if and when you do restart. How long do you think you’ll need?

AN: Word on the street is we’re not going to have a month to get ready — maybe a couple of weeks. Right now, we have a pretty good plan going with all our pitchers, sending texts out and staying in contact with our trainers and pitching coach. Part of it is on the player. We have to know what we need to do to get ready. Obviously, no one has experienced this type of deal at the beginning of the season, but we know what we have to do to keep our arm in shape, whether it’s two or three weeks or whatever.

What are the conversations like? “How’s the changeup?”

AN: Yeah, we talk each week for a good while about how our stuff is looking, how we felt, what our status is. Everything, really. And working out with a few guys definitely helps. It would be so much harder being by yourself.

What will be most important for you, in terms of being ready, before a season can start? Is it facing some hitters to get that adrenaline going or something else?

AN: I don’t think it’s the adrenaline. We’re going to feel that whenever we first take the mound in a game. The most important thing is having your arm and body in shape. We had it ramped up, and then we stopped. So it was ramped up, then decreasing our throws and if/when we start, it’s that ramp up again. It’ll be important not to do too much but not too little. It can be tricky.

Speaking of adrenaline or no adrenaline, have you resigned yourself to playing without fans?

AN: I don’t know. It will be way different. It’s been a long time since any of us have played with no fans. We’ll just adjust to whatever they want us to do.

What about the various plans to play that have been out there? Which do you prefer?

AN: It’s going to be hot either way. It’ll be hot here in Florida. It’ll be hot in Arizona. I don’t mind the humidity more than the dryness. Wherever they want to play, I’ll play.

Can MLB pull off a quarantine if need be?

AN: I don’t know. Only God knows what this is going to come to and when it’s going to end. I feel like the first part is staying safe. We all want to play, but safety is first. As time goes on, we’re going to get more answers, and hopefully they become more obvious, and this pandemic begins to pass.

One thing has become pretty clear: You probably won’t be able to face your brother, Austin Nola, in Seattle. You were supposed to play there in early July. I hear a large contingent of Nolas was planning to attend.

AN: It would have been awesome to face him. Over 100 people were going to come up for the game. Hopefully it can still happen, somewhere.

He just had a baby, whom you haven’t met yet, correct?

AN: Yeah, we FaceTime every now and again. I’m really excited to meet the baby. I’m happy for him. They seem super happy. That’s all that matters at this time. He’s a healthy baby.

He’s in Seattle, and your parents are in Louisiana. They can’t meet their grandchild, either. That must be frustrating.

AN: Nobody has met him yet. He was born a couple of weeks ago, and they didn’t allow anyone in the hospital, and they really haven’t opened flights yet from down there. Once that’s open, they’ll head up to Seattle to see him. My parents are going crazy, as you could imagine.

You grew up in Louisiana and went to college at LSU. That has been a hot spot for the virus, and I know your uncle has ALS, so he’s vulnerable. Is he OK?

AN: Yeah, those are the people that come to mind first. They already have something they’re struggling with, but those are already some of the strongest and most passionate people I’ve ever met. All they do is keep fighting. My uncle is doing well. [The ALS] is moving slow, so that’s good. He’s taking extra precautions now, for sure. I check in with my parents there often. You have to stay cautious no matter where you are, but especially if you’re vulnerable.

How did you get involved in the Home Plate Project, an MLB initiative to help feed the hungry?

AN: Adam Wainwright reached out last year to me and a few other guys to raise and donate money to the project. He asked me again a few weeks ago, so I donated some more. It’s a good cause for everyone that needs food right now, especially for kids. And getting a couple of guys from each team around the league to pitch in, I think it’s cool how we came together. Raising money right now is so important.

Back in Philadelphia, you’re part of Philabundance, also to help feed the hungry.

AN: Yeah, same thing for the Philadelphia area: getting food for people who can’t afford it. They are great, humble people who know what they’re doing. There’s poverty around the Philly area, and to be able to help them out is a blessing, for sure.

Just how badly do you want to be playing again?

AN: We’re itching to get back out there. But No. 1 is staying safe and healthy. Then we can start things up. The last thing you want to do is push it too fast, and something else happens.

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