Oh brother! Nola bros set for sibling showdown

October 19th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- It was around 2:30 a.m. on Sunday when Stacie and A.J. Nola came to a bittersweet realization while winding down from the thrill of watching their sons Aaron and Austin advance to the National League Championship Series.

"One of our boys is going to be playing for a World Series championship.”

"Oh my God. Well, one of them is going to lose."

Austin, 32, the primary catcher for the Padres, and Aaron, 29, a starting pitcher for the Phillies, will become just the sixth pair of brothers to face off in a postseason series. Aaron is slated to pitch Game 2 on Wednesday at Petco Park, with Philadelphia holding a 1-0 lead in the series after a 2-0 victory in Game 1 on Tuesday.

"We were asking Austin that on the way home [on Sunday afternoon], and he says, 'I want to see my little brother pitch in the World Series, because that would mean the world to me if I saw him pitch,'" A.J. told MLB.com. "Then he goes, 'But wait a minute: I want to play in the World Series!’"

Since they were kids in Baton Rouge, La., the Nola brothers have had a typical sibling rivalry. In true brotherly fashion, Aaron always tried to play in the yard with Austin and his friends, but the older boys would exclude him.

"Never let me win at anything," Aaron said. "I didn't win in many things, no matter what we did or what we played, what sport it was. I didn't win. It took me a while. So I think that gave me that competitive edge. Growing up, I always wanted to be as good as him, and I went to almost every one of his baseball games, basketball games, football games. When he went to high school, I also watched almost every one of those. And then in college at LSU before we played with each other, I went to almost every one of his home games, too. I got to see how he went about his business and played the game, and [I] learned a lot from him."

Until last August at Petco Park, the brothers had only faced off on the diamond once before. During fall practice in 2011, LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri decided to put them on opposite teams for a scrimmage. After Austin knocked a booming double off the left-center-field wall against his baby brother, Mainieri called for a hit-and-run play Austin's next time up. He was retired on a weak grounder.

"He came back to the dugout and he goes, 'Why did you put a hit and run on for?'" Mainieri recalled. "'I didn't want to hurt your brother's confidence, so I needed you to make an out.' But I don't think that'll be the case this Wednesday when they face each other. I'm sure that Austin will be trying to get as many hits as he can, and Aaron will be trying to get him out. But that was the only time I had them play against each other. After that, every time Aaron pitched, I had Austin play shortstop behind him. And it was really a very moving thing emotionally for me and his parents and people that knew the Nola family to see the two of them playing together."

Mainieri still keeps tabs on the Nolas, most recently making the 4 1/2-hour drive from Baton Rouge to Houston to see Aaron toss 6 2/3 scoreless innings to help the Phillies clinch the final NL Wild Card spot on Oct. 3. He is considering flying to San Diego for Game 2 of the NLCS.

But no one can top the devotion of A.J. and Stacie, who have been their sons’ greatest cheerleaders. A.J. coached them through their freshman years of high school. When Austin was 12 and Aaron was 9, A.J. bought a motor home so they could drive around the country every summer for travel ball.

"That's what we lived and breathed, and they absolutely loved it," A.J. said. "That's how our family came together through baseball."

It didn't change in 2012 at LSU, where Austin came back for his senior season to play with freshman Aaron. Austin was the star shortstop, while Aaron became the Saturday starter. A.J. and Stacie didn't miss a game.

It has continued with their sons in the Majors. A.J. and Stacie visit Aaron on the East Coast for a handful of days, then return home to Louisiana before going to Southern California to see Austin.

The Nola parents were in attendance when the Phillies and Padres met for a series in San Diego from June 23-26, 2022. Stacie wore a T-shirt that read, "Those are my boys" with the two club logos. A.J. donned both teams' jerseys, but when Aaron pitched, Philly’s went on top.

Austin earned bragging rights, driving in the only run in a 1-0 San Diego victory June 24. The Nolas got together for breakfast and postgame dinners, with everyone convening at Austin's house afterward.

"Of course I didn't know how much my heart would take while Aaron was pitching to his brother, but it was a good storyline and I was just so glad that it finally ended up happening," A.J. said. "Aaron was a little somber. He just wished the outcome was a little different. But we sat together and talked after the game for hours, and it hardly ever came up. We were glad to be a family again, just sitting around and chatting about old times and stuff other than baseball."

Aaron and Austin met up prior to Monday's workouts, but because of what’s at stake in the postseason and how demanding the job is, Austin anticipated minimal contact with his younger brother moving forward.

"I'll put it this way, in that this is important," Austin said. "We want to win. We're competitors. We love each other. He'll probably say the same thing. We love each other, we want each other to do the best. But when it comes to game time, we flip the switch. We want to win. He's going to do whatever he can to get me out. It's game time, it's, 'I'm not letting you off the hook one bit.' He told me straight up, 'I'm trying to strike you out.' I told him, 'I'm trying to hit a ball straight back at you.' It's always been like that.

"When I was younger I created this -- I wanted him to have that edge a little bit. He's used that edge, and I think that's important because he's very successful. I know he's going to give everything he can to his teammates to beat us, and I'm going to do everything I can for us to win."

Just as they’ve done so far this postseason, A.J. and Stacie will be there cheering the brothers on in person. During the NL Wild Card Series, they attended a Padres game at Citi Field and Aaron’s start at Busch Stadium. They flew to Philadelphia for NLDS Games 3 and 4, which included Aaron’s domination of the Braves.

After the Phillies advanced on Saturday, A.J. and Stacie returned to their hotel room and stayed up to watch the Padres do the same against the Dodgers. They arrived home on Sunday morning, catching up with Austin on the drive from New Orleans to Baton Rouge.

"I think when that first pitch comes about… I don't know," A.J. said. "I'm going to be so locked in on the game. I may not even hear the crowd, I'll be so locked in. When Aaron pitches, I live and breathe each of his pitches, every single pitch."