Trading Ricky Nolasco was more than just what it seemed to be on the surface, a struggling cellar-dweller selling an asset, a reliable starter to a flawed but wealthy big city, big market “all star” team. It was actually the end of an era. Nolasco is after all the team’s all time win leader, strike out leader and has the most starts in team history, but all of this is born from typical Marlin uncertainty and instability.
After the 2005 season Jeffrey Loria went about undertaking what was then the most egregious “market correction” in franchise history. The Marlins traded Juan Pierre to the Chicago Cubs, Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to the Red Sox and Carlos Delgado to the Mets. The Marlins received the core of the 2006-2012 teams in these trades – players like – Hanley Ramirez, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez and Mike Jacobs. The Marlins as they were known from 2006 until last winter was made from these trades, besides Miguel Cabrera and Josh Johnson. But when those trades happened nobody would’ve thought that Ricky Nolasco would be longest tenured Marlins of the players listed above.
Nolasco is a symbol for the 2006-2013 Marlins a young player traded to the Marlins who through hard work, perseverance, opportunism and sheer work ethic became the franchise’s all-time win leader. If Nolasco’s career as Marlin began at very uncertain time it ended at an even more uncertain period. Then much like now success was for the taking and Nolasco took it and didn’t let go. That ethos is something that should desirable not just in professional athletes but also in real life. To know what you’re capable of and do whatever is necessary to make the collective better by subsuming the individual. That is not hyperbole, that is what Ricky Nolasco represents to me a player that made the best out of a bad situation and in the course of his career has become the consummate Marlin and professional.
The 2006 season was an interesting moment in Marlins history, beset by worry but sparkling with hope. Youth was the theme, from the team’s manager Joe Girardi and every position on the diamond. But that starting rotation led by Dontrelle Willis and anchored by those other inexperienced arms played a huge role in what turned to be a hugely surprising season. As early as 2006, Nolasco showed what he had as a pitcher, not a thrower, a true pitcher. The 2006 Marlins finished with all five of their regular starters all and under the age of 25 having at least 10 wins and records above .500. Through the next 7 years through injuries and bad times it was that starting rotation and especially Ricky Nolasco that could be counted on to go every fifth day and try its damn best to keep the Marlins in the game.
The sports media likes to think in the easiest convenient terms and thus Nolasco became “workman like” a true “blue collar guy.” Sometimes the cliché fits, and to me and other Marlins fans, that have stuck with the team since 2006 Ricky has been like clockwork, a consistent performer that could be counted on to do his best whenever he was asked to do so. Sure sometimes he would get batted around and allowed 6 ER in 2 1/3 innings but that was a casualty of his pitching style, sometimes the command of that good curveball wasn’t there. Ricky was usually a very adept pitcher, a winner, somebody that knows how to pitch to the score and when a shut down inning was absolutely necessary. Sometimes he was masterful, as in that game in September of 2009 that he struck out 16 Braves in 7.2 IP. Ricky as Marlin was consistency personified, usually good, seldom bad or spectacular. That fact once again returns to Ricky’s ethos, his character, that if you’re usually good some glitches can be tolerated.
If 2006 was the beginning it is fitting that it is book ended by 2013. The 2013 Marlins are the direct descendants of the 2006 Marlins, Hanley Ramirez begat Nathan Eovaldi, Anibal Sanchez begat Jacob Turner and so on. Often sports fandom as I mentioned in these pages before is about faith much like religious belief. Marlins fans that saw that 2006 season can be heartened in 2013. In 2006 Young raw prospects, Rule 6 draftees and one two superstar did the unbelievable and did not have the worst record in baseball, the story in 2013 is much the same. Young players learning on the job and getting better as players, gamers and teammates as the season goes along.
But returning to Nolasco he was the best example of this process, growth under pressure. Maybe if he had remained a Chicago Cub he would have done what he did in his time as Marlin but he took the opportunity and ran with it and in the process became the if not literally the “best” pitcher in franchise history at least the most successful pitcher to wear teal and pinstripes. Ricky’s time as a Marlin teaches a lesson, when one is given an opportunity it is wise to not shy away from it and give yourself fully to it. That lesson seems like something that is being grasped by Ricky’s now former teammates, you only have one chance to make it in the Major Leagues, so take it.
Ricky Nolasco was never exciting, but he is a symbol, for what hard work, perseverance, consistency and opportunism can net a person. Athletes as well as normal every day people try to advance in life by being flashy or by showing off, that is not truly the way to get ahead. We all have a little bit of Ricky Nolasco inside of us and that is the best part of us, the part that works hard and gives itself up for the betterment of something larger.