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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Nashua’s Kevin Nolan staying true to his roots

They were perched on the bench, wide-eyed and eager to learn.

Sitting in a professional baseball dugout is a treat for any kid, and a group from the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Nashua had the right guy to answer their questions Monday morning. ...

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They were perched on the bench, wide-eyed and eager to learn.

Sitting in a professional baseball dugout is a treat for any kid, and a group from the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Nashua had the right guy to answer their questions Monday morning.

“I used to be at the Boys & Girls Club all the time playing basketball,” Kevin Nolan said, about an hour before he was to take the field at shortstop for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. “It was a lot of fun.”

“Can you sign my ticket?”one youth said.

“How long have you been into baseball?”

“Can you hit (a home run) today?”

Great stuff. Nolan answered them all and now has some new hometown fans.

“I liked the questions,” one of the kids, Anicia Durham, age 11, said. “I learned a lot about him.”

So did 11-year-old Cody Cargill.

“I can see him as an excellent player already,” he said. “He seems really cheerful and I can see him doing good for the team.”

Kids say the darndest things, but they got the gist. There’s one thing that never changes about Nolan: He’s worn that same enthusiastic smile since he was a shortstop at Nashua High School South, winning a championship his junior year.

Now, at age 25, he’s in his fourth year of professional baseball and his dream is extra special because he’s able to live at home while playing in Manchester. And he is an Eastern League All-Star.

Nolan has had his ups and downs this season, but he clearly has everything in perspective, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by those in the Toronto organization.

“I tell you one thing,” Fisher Cats hitting coach and former Red Sox coach Richie Hebner said. “He’s a pretty focused kid. He knows what he has to do. Will he make it? I don’t know. It’s up to him. But he’s very focused and into the game. He knows why he’s here – to go up the ladder and see what happens.”

“I’ll just keep playing as long as they keep wanting me,” said Nolan, who didn’t homer but did have a hit in the Cats’ 7-6 win over Binghamton. “I enjoy it. I’m getting paid to play a kids game, and I enjoy the competition. I like going out there and battling every night, and grinding it out and playing the game of baseball. It’s a mental game and it’s physical.”

The last couple of years, playing in the lower minors in Florida and Michigan, he wasn’t able to do what he does now – see his family rooting for him.

“It’s nice,” he said, “being able to go on the field and see my family there watching.”

Nolan, as Hebner said, knows why he’s in Double A – to learn his craft. He began the season on fire, hit a dip, and is fighting out of it, currently hitting .243 with six homers and 38 RBIs.

“I can’t believe it’s been four years playing professional baseball already,” he said. “It’s gone by very fast. But I knew I could do it. I knew if I had the opportunity, I felt like I could do it.”

Nolan wanted to display that confidence to the kids who were in the dugout to see him on Monday.

He made it a point to tell the Fisher Cats he wants to be involved in talking to the youth in the community, another thing to like about him.

“I think that’s a big thing,” Nolan said, “and baseball players like to help out because the kids do look up to them. … I was one of those kids. I grew up around here. I know the kids look up to us a lot and it’s great to help them out.

“I’ve done a couple of camps, and the best thing are the real little ones, the 6-year-olds. You tell them how to do this or that, and then after a couple of minutes, they just run around and have fun.”

And that’s the message Nolan has. He’ll enjoy the Eastern League All-Star Game on Wednesday in New Britain, Conn. and then get back to work.

“Have fun,” he said. “Enjoy it, because it does go by fast. Enjoy it, work hard, and work hard in academics. But in the game of baseball, there’s going to be rough times. Don’t get down on it, just keep moving forward.”

Hebner, who briefly was the Nashua Pride hitting coach and last year managed North Shore in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League finals against the Nashua Silver Knights, has that same message.

“Just keep playing and see what happens. That’s why you’re in Double-A.

“You make mistakes, you get better and you go up.”

No matter what happens, things will always be looking up for Kevin Nolan, that’s for sure. He gets it.

Tom King can be reached at 594-6468 or tking@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow King on Twitter (@Telegraph_TomK).