Here's a theory about baseball: If you are a kid who loves the sport, you grow up with a special fondness for those major leaguers who play the way you do.
A kid who's big for his age, a Little League slugger, probably loves watching the home run hitters of his era: Mike Schmidt, Ryan Howard, Giancarlo Stanton.
A travel team pitcher who throws hard is likely to admire Nolan Ryan, or Randy Johnson, or any number of major-league pitchers these days who can zoom a fastball at 100 mph or more.
It seems a natural inclination. A young athlete pictures whom he might become someday, and he sees that vision already made manifest in an accomplished professional, and he admires him for it.
All of that is to say that Aaron Nola is one of the reasons I love baseball.
This has nothing to do with Nola himself per se, or that he pitches for the Phillies, or that he had a promising 13 starts last season as a rookie and could be part of the team's starting rotation for years to come. It has everything to do with how he pitches, what he does to get hitters out.
Nola does not throw hard. The average speed of his fastball last season, according to the data-tracking website Fangraphs.com, was 90.5 mph. The speed of an average major-league fastball last season, according to the Pitchf/x tool, was 92 mph.
Yet Nola was the Phillies' first-round pick, the seventh in the entire draft, in 2014. He went 30-6 with a 2.09 ERA over his college career at Louisiana State. He struck out 137 hitters over 165 innings in the minors, and over his 78 innings with the Phillies in 2015, he had 68 strikeouts and a respectable 3.59 ERA.
So hitters are often not hitting his pitches, or often not hitting him well.
"Movement and command," he said one day in Clearwater during spring training. "I'm not an overpowering guy, and I've never really been an overpowering guy. I really work on trying to command the ball as best I can in the lower part of the zone and trying to mix pitches up.
"A lot of guys throw 100 miles an hour. It's the game today. I throw in the low 90s, and there are still a lot of guys out there who do, and we've seen in the past guys have success with that. I just try to locate the ball as best as possible, mix things up, and get all my pitches over for strikes."
It's no surprise that Nola's muse was Greg Maddux, perhaps the most cerebral pitcher in baseball history.
"That's what made him so good," Nola said. "He remembered every single hitter he faced and knew what he did two months ago, the pitch sequence. That's next-level right there."
Nola himself tracks opposing hitters' patterns and tendencies by recording the information in a notebook and on his iPad, then trying to use that knowledge against them by focusing on their soft-target zones. He did the same thing as a teenager, though he didn't necessarily have to.
"What we saw when he was here was unbelievable control," J.P. Kelly, the athletic director at Catholic High School in Baton Rouge, La., Nola's alma mater, said last year. "Now, at the high school level, it was dominant. The velocity was still there just because of the level of play. But every pitch, he would place it where it needed to be. For us, he would get a lot of strikeouts and was fantastic. His ability to think through the game and place his pitches, that's tremendous for him."
Music. Such sweet, evocative music. Aaron Nola is the kind of major-league pitcher I would have wanted to be when I was a kid, because he's the kind of pitcher I tried to be when I was a kid. I stopped playing organized baseball at age 15, and even then, after years of pitching in community and travel leagues, my "fastball" - delivered with a three-quarter-to-sidearm motion that was a bastardization of Kent Tekulve's - didn't have enough force to puncture a paper bag.
A catcher didn't need a glove to be my batterymate. I got hitters out - those hitters I did get out, that is - mostly by boring them to death as they waited for the baseball to reach them after it left my hand.
The two skills I had, and they could only loosely be called "skills," were good control and a slight, late, tailing action on each pitch that sometimes prevented a batter from striking the ball squarely with the thick, springy part of his aluminum bat. Sometimes.
Still, a boy can dream, and as I grew up, whenever my father and I watched ballgames on TV, we paid particular attention to and had particular affection for the likes of Maddux, Tom Glavine, Bob Tewksbury, and John Tudor - pitchers who didn't overpower hitters but out-thought them, mixing their fastball with their breaking stuff, hitting not the catcher's glove but the gnat atop the glove.
It didn't even matter if a pitcher was all that effective or all that precise; if he lacked a decent fastball, we were fascinated. For a long while, Dad had an odd affinity for former Phillie Mike Williams, a journeyman who finished his 12-year major-league career with a 32-54 record and a 4.45 ERA.
Every time Williams took the mound, my father said the same thing: That guy has an idea out there. He said it so often that the line remains an inside joke between us to this day.
Aaron Nola has an idea out there. He always has. There's no higher compliment I could pay him.