Austin Nola's long, strange journey to the NLDS

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THERE WAS A time when Austin Nola woke up every morning thinking of somewhere else. He had the schedule memorized: Los Angeles today, Oakland tomorrow, back to Seattle next week. He thought of all those places, better places, big league places, where affirmation blinked in the distance. If he got the call now, right this second, how long would it take him to pack his stuff and get to the airport? Which ballpark would host his major league debut? He allowed his mind to drift from his minor league life to the precisely mown grass, the charter flights, the resort-like clubhouses — a place where years of hard work would be validated.

For seven-and-a-half years, from Greensboro, North Carolina, to Jamestown, New York, to Jupiter, Florida, to New Orleans to Jacksonville, Florida, to New Orleans to Jacksonville to Tacoma, Washington, he embodied the folly and torture of believing he could will himself to the big leagues. Projection proved taxing, unfulfilling and perhaps unending. The future of his mental health demanded that he give it up, and the reckoning came on June 11 of last year, a Tuesday. Nola and his wife, Michelle, were sitting in a

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