Different paths, same point
MANCHESTER – Maybe having former Nashuan K.C. Hobson as a teammate has brought out the best in Kevin Nolan.
Something has changed to turn the season around for Nolan, the former Nashua High School South and Winthrop University standout who is now shortstop for the Class AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
Back in June, Nolan was hitting below the Mendoza Line (that’s .200, for anyone who doesn’t remember the infamous former big-league infielder, Mario).
That is also about the time Hobson was promoted from Class A Dunedin.
As Fisher Cats media relations director Tom Gauthier said, “You’re holding your breath with anticipation every time he steps up to the plate.”
“He’s one of the best,” Hobson said of Nolan. “He’s relaxed up there and hits balls on the nose almost all the time.”
“Things are just going well right now,” said Nolan, who was hitting .189 and lifted his average about 70 points, with five homers and 35 RBIs. Last week he was riding a 13-game hitting streak, and was hitting near .370 since June 19.
He drove in the game-winner against Trenton on July 22. Lately, if the Fisher Cats win, he has had something to do with it.
Nolan was a Nashua South senior in 2004-05 when Hobson was a Nashua North freshman. The two didn’t know each other growing up and Hobson, the son of former Boston Red Sox and Nashua Pride manager Butch Hobson, moved away with his family to California while Nolan went on to college.
But they’ve played together in spring training and in the Blue Jays system.
Hobson, a first baseman-DH drafted sixth by the Jays in 2009, was promoted from Class A Dunedin after driving in 57 runs in 61 games.
“I was planning on staying in Dunedin the whole year,” Hobson said. “But then I got called up. I was excited, and it’s been a cool experience. It’s been cool to see a lot of people I haven’t seen in a long time.”
Including Nolan, who was in Manchester all of last year, as well. With his current hot stretch included, the shortstop thinks he has made strides over last season, when he was an Eastern League All-Star.
“Every year, mentally and physically, (I’m) trying to get better,’’ Nolan said, “what I was ’09 to now, definitely.”
Why did Nolan get off to such a slow start this season?
“It was just some tough luck,” he said. “I hit a lot of hard balls, just right at people. That’s how the stretch was going. Just told myself to keep swinging and hopefully find some holes.”
Nolan also made an effort to take his time at the plate, using a more methodical approach.
“I just had to slow things down,” he said. “Just stick to my approach, don’t get out of it. Just simplified things. Just try to relax a little bit more up there.”
“It kind of goes hand in hand with his approach,” said Fisher Cats manager Bobby Meacham, who has been one of Nolan’s biggest boosters since spring training. “It stayed the same. He was consistent with it early in the season, but he wasn’t getting the benefit of hits with it. I think he may have tried to change a few things, but then decided to stay with ‘My approach that works,’ and now the hits are falling in for him.
“Confidence builds, and it just keeps rolling for him. This is what he looked like in spring training, from what I saw.”
Nolan was asked when the corner was turned.
“It’s still turning,” he said. “I’m still trying. It’s a long season, you still have to come every day. Over a month left in the season, and I’m still plugging away.”
So is Hobson. He has struggled a bit at the plate, hitting just .165 with four homers and nine RBIs in his first 25 Fisher Cats games.
“I’ve done better the last week or so,” he said. “I’ve still got six weeks left, and anything can happen, really.
“It’s not much different (from high A). I tried to do too much early, and now instead of playing catch-up, I just have to continue to swing it and grind through it.”
What’s Hobson like as a pro ballplayer?
“I’d like to be an all-around hitter, and the power will come. I know I’ve got some power,” said Hobson, who has 50 homers in his pro career. “But I just want to try to be a professional hitter and stay consistent with that.
“You have to stay focused and not get caught up in going 0 for 2 or 0 for 3. Just go out there and every at-bat, find a good pitch to hit, and try to do some damage with it.”
Meacham played with Hobson’s father on the Yankees’ Triple A team, and he says the two are different, as he managed K.C. last season in A ball. The senior Hobson is still managing in independent baseball, with Lancaster of the Atlantic League.
“He’s the exact opposite,” Meacham said. “His dad would just dive for everything, be filled with dirt, all scarred up. He’s a little different from his dad, a little more calm. More laid-back.
“Last year, he got better and better, and at the end of it all he drove in a lot of runs and hit a few home runs. I think that’s the kind of player he is.’’
Nolan, like Hobson, had a change of address this season, but only for a brief time, as he was called up to Triple A Buffalo when the Blue Jays had a lot of roster issues to work out. Nolan went 6 for 26 with a double, a triple and an RBI.
“It was nice being with the older guys, seeing how they come to the field every day, get ready,” he said. “I kept the same routine up there. It was a good experience.
“It’s a cleaner game. A step up, a little cleaner game, more mature players, and even the guys you play against, you can tell they have an approach what they’re going to have every at-bat. You can tell it’s the next step up.”
Patience is the key, Meacham said.
“We keep preaching to these guys, It’s a long season, man,” he said. “If you believe in what you’re doing, just keep doing it, and at the end of it all, it’ll probably come out the way you think it will, the way it’s supposed to.”