Under normal circumstances, Nolan Earley would be in Marion, Illinois preparing for his return to the Southern Illinois Miners. Instead, he is playing the waiting game and continuing to prepare for the possible 2020 season in his hometown of Anderson, Indiana.
If everything had fallen into place, Rent One Park would be kicking off the season with the Miners’ Home Opener next Friday and the 29-year-old veteran hitter and skilled outfielder would be greeted by beloved fans who have been awaiting his homecoming since the announcement of his return in January.
“I’m fortunate enough that I have equipment at my house and access to a baseball facility that I pretty much go to every day.” Earley said, while being interviewed by Dugout Dish. “I’ve been prepping pretty much the same way that I would – everything is just delayed for me. Taking it one day at a time.”
In the off-season, he works at a baseball training facility in his hometown, one that allows him to keep up his skillset even in the midst of COVID-19 shutting down baseball until further notice. “With the current situation, I just have to prepare for a season like how I normally would.”
“You have to work hard every day, don’t take it for granted – you never know what could happen and a lot of kids that come to the facility where I work, go on to play college baseball. I tell them you have to embrace the grind and the process.”
In the last five years of working in the facility, Earley has watched a handful of baseball players become drafted into MLB organizations – including a young man drafted by the Rays in 2018. Earley takes pride in helping younger players. “It takes a long time to get where you want to be. If you are serious about it, keep working at it. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it can happen.”
Before diving into professional baseball, Earley played for Anderson High School in his hometown. As a senior, he led the North Central Conference with a .480 batting average and .920 slugging percentage. Not only did he excel at the plate, he pitched in 31 2/3 innings and posted a 1.55 ERA, which led him to be second-best in the conference. Not to mention, he played as a quarterback and defensive back all four years of high school as well.
“I didn’t know that I wanted to play college baseball until my sophomore year of high school – when I started getting recognition from college scouts. It was at that point when I knew I wanted to play college baseball.” He went on to play for the University of South Alabama and became a part of the Chicago White Sox organization after being drafted in the 22nd round of the 2013 MLB June Amateur Draft.
Earley began playing for the Miners in 2016 and had a tremendous debut season. He hit .291 with 20 doubles, 70 RBI, 103 hits and nine home runs. His success skyrocketed him into a fan favorite amongst Miners’ fans quickly and even was given the opportunity to be featured on the team bus during his previous time with the Miners.
Now entering in what will be his fourth season with the Miners, he looks forward to being back with a team that he considers family. “Coming back and playing for Mike Pinto, I’m excited to be able to do that again. His approach to the game is incredible, I love working with him.”
Not only is he fond of his team’s organization, he speaks highly about the fanbase and city that he calls home during the summer months. “Overall, it’s a great community to play for – the fans and stadium in Marion are amazing. If you play for the Miners, you really are fortunate. Pinto and the organization really takes care of us.”
Before spending the 2019 with the Milwaukee Milkmen, Earley was used as the every-day right fielder from 2016 to 2018 for the Miners. In the previous three seasons spent with the Illinois based team, the Indiana native batted .278 in 286 games with 283 hits, 153 walks, 64 doubles, six triples, 33 home runs, 158 RBI and 146 runs scored overall.
And by the looks of it, he won’t be hanging up his glove or cleats anytime soon, allowing his stats to flourish even more. “I’m about seven to eight years into this and I feel like my career has been pretty successful. I’m going to keep playing until the time is right. I want to make the decision where I want to walk away, not when someone tells me to stop playing.”
“I want to go out on my terms and see how long I can play until I know it’s time to hang it up,” He said, continuing. Before the merger with the Can-Am League, the Frontier League had an age limit which sent Earley to Milwaukee to play in the American Association at the age of 28-years-old. The age limit has now been changed as a part of the updated league rules to benefit both leagues who merged during the off-season.
Family is what matters most to Earley and the values that his parents instilled in him even as a young child. “I have parents that taught me at an early age, if I’m going to do something, I’m going to put everything into it as hard as I can.”
“One of my fondest memories comes from my freshman year of high school. My brother was a senior and it was the only time my brother and I played together on the same team.” He and his brother Michael followed the same path – both being drafted by the Chicago White Sox and then later playing for the Miners at separate times.
“I always look back on that one year that I played with him. Everyone wants to play with their older brother when they are younger and even though it was in high school, I cherish that memory,” He added.
“I give all the credit to my brother for leading by example.” His brother Michael has since retired and has become the Assistant Baseball Coach and Hitting Coach for the Arizona State Sun Devils.
While the Frontier League’s Opening Day is still postponed due to COVID-19, Earley feels confident that he’ll be able to play baseball and return to Marion, IL this year. “I think we’ll be there eventually. I don’t know what the format will be but, we’ll all get to be back there eventually. Also, I can’t wait to see our mascot Lucky and play putt-putt behind right field.”
(Photo Courtesy of Nolan Earley)