SAN DIEGO — Austin and Aaron Nola are each other's biggest fans. Unless their teams are playing each other.
Austin was a typical big brother, never letting his little brother win at anything they played. Aaron tagged along to all of Austin's football, basketball and baseball games.
The Nola brothers face off for the third time in their big league careers on Wednesday. Aaron is set to pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL Championship Series. One of the batters the 29-year-old right-handed ace will face is his 32-year-old brother, San Diego Padres catcher Austin Nola.
“I know his stuff very well,” Austin said. “We talk a lot about pitching. I use a lot of his knowledge and wisdom to teach me."
The Nolas will be the sixth set of brothers to play against each other in the postseason, and first since Baltimore's Roberto and Cleveland's Sandy Alomar Jr. in the 1997 AL Championship Series.
“It's pretty neat,” Aaron said. “We’re going to enjoy this moment and soak it in because we don’t know when it’ll ever happen again.”
But, of course, only one Nola will advance to the World Series. One brother will experience the thrill of playing for a ring; disappointment awaits the other.
“I don’t even want to think about the feeling or anything like that,” Austin said.
Aaron and the Phillies got the upper hand in the opener Tuesday night, winning 2-0.
In Game 2, Aaron faces his big brother for the first time in the postseason.
Aaron's mindset? “Try to get him out,” he said.
Their regular-season matchups have been split decisions, both times at Petco Park. On Aug. 21, 2021, Aaron struck out Austin. The ball used for the strikeout, as well as photos, are part of the family's memorabilia collection.
In June of this year, Austin got the upper hand. He singled on an 0-2 pitch from Aaron, who had held the Padres scoreless until the sixth inning, to drive in the lone run in San Diego's 1-0 victory.
As kids in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the brothers were coached by their father, A.J., throughout childhood. Aaron got interested in the game by watching Austin playing tournament baseball. They attended the same high school and were at LSU together for one season, when Aaron was a freshman and Austin a senior.
Eager to be as good as his brother, Aaron studied everything Austin did.
“No matter what the stage was, if he didn’t get a hit, if he made an error, he never would hang his head, no matter if he was failing or succeeding,” Aaron said. “It really stuck out to me. I try to do that still today.”
They traveled different paths to the big leagues. Aaron was called up by the Phillies in 2015, and Austin made his debut with the Seattle Mariners in 2019 after toiling in the minors for several years.
In 2020, Austin was traded to the Padres, putting him in the National League and in his brother's path more often.
As fun as it is for the brothers to square off, the situation is agonizing for their parents.
Mom Stacie plays it down the middle with her clothing, choosing not to wear the Phillies' colors of red and white or the Padres' colors of brown and yellow. Dad A.J. wears both of his sons' jerseys, alternating which one is on top.
“I think he usually wears the Phillies jersey over the Padres jersey when I pitch, and then vice versa when I don’t pitch,” Aaron said. “Austin plays pretty much every day, so I think he wears the Padres jersey probably a little bit more.”
Austin and his wife have two children, including a daughter born last month. Aaron is unmarried.
Thursday is a travel day as the best-of-seven series moves to Philadelphia for Game 3. Just don't book dinner reservations for the Nolas in the City of Brotherly Love yet.
“It depends on how the first two games go,” Austin said, laughing.