NEW PORT RICHEY — Jordan Nolan's rise to being one of Pasco-Hernando Community College's most heavily scouted transfer prospects has been a surprising one, on and off the field.
The 20-year-old Clearwater Central Catholic graduate has become a stalwart pitcher in two seasons at PHCC with numbers that have attracted scouts from the University of Florida to St. Thomas in Miami and the University of North Florida. The former walk-on third baseman's road to taking the mound wasn't conventional, but shows the reward a coach can get by thinking outside the box.
"I discovered he could pitch by accident," PHCC coach Steve Winterling said. "I was looking for some extra arms and I pulled out the radar gun at practice and opened up the mound to the guys. He threw the first pitch at 88 mph and that caught my attention. I took him to the bullpen and he had some pitches, so I put him on the mound the following spring and he went 4-0."
Staying on the mound hasn't been as easy, however. After that successful freshman year, last year should have been his sophomore season, but a fateful day in his dormitory would set him on a course toward requiring a red shirt season.
One day in September 2011, as he was stepping out of the shower, Nolan smelled smoke coming from the kitchen of his New Port Richey apartment. He opened the door to see his roommate struggling with a fire in a pan. Nolan reacted by doing the first thing that came to mind: He threw water on it. The grease fire immediately spread — including to Nolan's upper body. Portions of his arms, shoulders and chest were severely burned, requiring him to be airlifted to Tampa General Hospital's burn unit.
"I had skin grafts on my chest and arms, so the process of coming back was tough," Nolan said. "The skin was tight and uncomfortable at times, but I've just worked around it and done what I had to do to get back on the field."
For nine months, Nolan couldn't touch a baseball. The idea of making a throwing motion too painful, the consequences of being out in the sun so dire he still wears a sweatshirt at practice. The following June he finally was able to begin playing again. It slowly and painfully came back to him, but now, Nolan is thankful for everyday he gets on the mound.
"Having it taken away from me for almost a year was tough, but I'm sure it's made me grow up a bit and I love the game more than ever now," Nolan said. "I look forward to being here everyday. I'm not thinking about anything when I get out there now, I just get in the zone. To have the chance to pitch in front of scouts is something I didn't know I was going to get to do a year ago, so I'm happy to be back."
For his teammates, getting him back in the lineup is reassuring and inspiring. Palm Harbor's Danny Murray has played against Nolan since Little League and is confident when he takes the mound. Seeing him return to baseball after his accident has been both uplifting and a great help to the team, who went into their game Friday against Madison Community College on a 10-game winning streak and having won 15 of their last 16 games.
"I'm proud of him coming back after all he's been through," Murray said. "It couldn't have happened to a nicer kid. He's so laid back and always happy, never down on himself. He's a great teammate and when he's on the mound, our confidence is high because you know he's going to shut everyone down."