WELS, Austria – This autumn, Nolan Bond will turn 21. Like others his age at the University of Houston, his conversations will include course schedules as he starts harder classes in his field, housing issues, and what he did over the summer. Like some of his classmates, Bond played baseball over the summer for the second straight year. Where their stories differ though, is that after taking the mound in Brooklyn last September wearing a Great Britain jersey, the Anglo-Texan once more took the hill for Team GB and, this time, led his nation to a no-hit victory.
It’s been quite a year for Bond, a pitcher born in Fife, Scotland. Last September, he impressed in two appearances against Israel, a team of professional veterans, in the World Baseball Classic Qualifier, pitching in high-leverage spots both times. This spring, he followed on from a successful (true) freshman year at Houston with 25 innings of 3.60 ERA for a Cougars team that won the American Athletic Association regular season and playoff title and was ranked nationally in NCAA Division I.
Bond earned his first career start in the final game of the NCAA Regional, hosted by Houston, and pitched a career high 6 2/3 frames on June 5, taking a tough luck loss against Texas A&M University, a team that would finished ranked No. 8 in the U.S. The then 20-year old allowed eight hits and three runs, but did not walk a batter and struck out four. Bond walked only three batters on the season and has a 2.97 career ERA for the Cougars.
On Monday, however, Bond took his game to another level. As one of the youngest starting pitchers in the in the European Under-23 Championship, he looked calm and confident as he tossed six innings against Austria without allowing a single hit. In fact, Bond had a perfect game through five, with the only baserunner a walk to the leadoff batter in the sixth after Great Britain had a long four-run inning.
“We knew Nolan was a special talent following his GB debut at the WBCQ, and today we got to see what that sort of talent looks like competing with his own age group,” noted Great Britain’s Head Coach, Liam Carroll. “He set great tempo for our [championship] effort today with his presence and command of three pitches, and most excitingly, given the great hands he’s in at the University of Houston, we’re just scratching the surface of what this young man is capable of achieving.”
Bond, who mixed a fastball, a nice 12-6 curveball, and a changeup, struck out nine and allowed only the one baserunner, needing just 73 pitches to polish off the host nation in a 10-0 win. The righty also kept the ball in the infield, allowing only two fly balls compared to seven grounders. With pitch counts a factor in international tournament and GB winning 8-0, Carroll elected wisely to save Bond for a potential quarterfinal matchup.
The game was shortened, though, to seven innings after the British bats plated two due to the 10-run mercy rule. Miguel Rodríguez went one-two-three in the ninth to preserve Britain’s first no-hitter in Under-23 (or U21) play. Soon-to-be major leaguer Jake Esch did throw seven perfect innings against Croatia in the 2014 European Championship, but in a game that went nine innings, a British reliever allowed a hit in the final frame.
“I am very proud of Nolan for his performance. I am not surprised by his success as he is a relentless worker on and off the field,” remarked Houston Head Coach Todd Whitting. “I look forward to him once again competing to be a significant pitcher in our rotation next season.”
We spoke to Bond, who we dubbed one of the Brooklyn WBC Qualifiers’ top prospects (link), about his historic moment after Great Britain qualified for the U23 semifinals. Video of the righty’s impressive start is available here. For more explanation of Europe’s first Under-23 tournament and the potential consequences for Great Britain and others, we examined down Baseball Europe’s ‘Competition Rules’ (link).
Gabriel Fidler: Could you talk about your performance today?
Nolan Bond: I felt really good out there on the mound, me and my catcher Hayden Platt were on the same page the entire game and the rest of my team played great defense behind me and gave me the run support I needed to succeed.
Platt is the other NCAA D-I player on Great Britain’s roster, earning Third Team All-Conference honours at Elon University (North Carolina) while hitting .311/.430/.557 as a junior (third-year).
GF: When did you realise you were pitching a no-no?
NB: After the end of the 3rd inning I had realized it but it wasn’t until after the fifth that I thought I had a legitimate chance of keeping it.
GF: How did Coach Carroll prepare you for the start?
NB: Liam is great at giving me every bit of information I need on my opponent to go out there and succeed but he is also very good at understanding that I have my established routine to stick with as well which is exactly what I need to succeed.
GF: How did you feel before going out and then during?
NB: Before going out I had some pregame anxiety. Going out there and representing your country has a little bit of pressure built into it but once I faced a few batters I was locked in nicely for the rest of the game.
GF: And how did that differ from taking the mound in Brooklyn the first time?
NB: Pitching in Brooklyn was a little more wild than pitching here in Austria just because it was my first time pitching for Great Britain and it was on such a big world class stage. But in both cases it’s an honor to put on your country’s jersey and go out on the field and play.
GF: Could you discuss the differences between playing for a college team and then national team ball?
NB: There isn’t too big of a difference besides the teams we play and the venues we play at. The teams both internationally and at college are very competitive and never back down and the coaching staffs and teammates I’ve had for both teams have been world class.
GF: How you feel like you’ve grown in a year that’s seen you play in WBCQ, Houston, and now for GB again?
NB: It’s definitely been a wild ride for me this year playing for all these different teams but getting out there and competing at the highest level with a good group of coaches and teammates has truly helped me grow as a player and person.
GF: Any culture shock in Austria?
NB: Definitely. Austria is completely different from anything I’m used to but it’s really fun to come to Austria and see what it’s like in a different part of the world. The fans, players, and staff here in Austria are comparable to those in the states in that they have a good understanding of the game, they have top of the line facilities, and they never back down without a fight.
Bond will likely take the hill this weekend as Great Britain enters the final eight of the U23 Championship. Carroll’s men take on the Netherlands on Friday at 14:00 GMT, with a game on Saturday and Sunday depending on whether they win or lose. Extra Innings will have play-by-play coverage on Twitter @ExtraInningsUK, with other coverage and analysis as well.