PALMER — The Mat-Su Miners were unable to capture another Alaska Baseball League title this summer, but were able to capture something they haven’t before. While local ballplayers often make brief appearances in green and gold, Wasilla High product Nolan Monaghan enjoyed his third season with the Miners in dazzling fashion. The 6’3” left hander from Wasilla enjoyed a solid season on the mound for the miners, striking out 11 batters in five games and securing a 2.84 earned run average. While the Alaskan ballplayers picked up by the Miners rarely offer an impact, Monaghan is the exception. With a deceptive fastball that is difficult to read, a biting spike curveball and a time-defying changeup, Monaghan has elevated his pitching to a division 1 level. After two years at Feather River Community College in California, Monaghan heads back for his second season at Division 1 Austin Peay university, the only Valley baseball product playing in Division 1 right now.
“You’re at these games in high school too and you’re like okay this is not going to be an easy feat, so like you don’t really think like it’s something that’s easily done. But to be able to actually play as a local kid on the Miners it’s something that you really really want to do,” said Monaghan.
Monaghan left the Wasilla Warriors and Post 35 Alaska Road Warriors programs for Feather River and enjoyed some early success, tossing 16 strikeouts in his freshmen season in over 19 innings. Monaghan was invited to be a part of the Miners pitching staff that summer and picked up information from the division 1 coaches and players surrounding him.
“You learn a lot. You soak in a lot of information from other ballplayers and stuff like that and what they’re coaches have taught them, their coaches are at those big division 1 schools for a reason,” said Monaghan. “It is really cool. It’s like a breath of fresh air because you feel like you actually do learn something new every day.”
Monaghan contributed to the success of the Wasilla baseball programs at an early age. He culminated his career having been named to the All-USA Alaska Baseball Team in 2015, the All-State Tournament team in 2015, and reached the state tournament by throwing a no-hitter in the region final to send his team to state. Once established at Feather River, Monaghan went 5-2 with a 3.51 ERA as a senior, holding opponents batting average to a pedestrian .215. Monaghan helped Feather River with the Golden Valley Conference in his sophomore year. While a standout in Alaska high school baseball, Monaghan suffered a rude awakening at Feather River, surrounded by elite level talent.
“Here you get away with throwing 80 mph with an offspeed pitch that you don’t even have to throw for a strike all the time, and so like once you get to the junior college level it’s like as a starter, I’ve got to be able to flip two pitches in for strikes when I want to,” said Monaghan. “That was probably the best decision I ever made was going to that junior college.”
Monaghan pitched for the Miners in the summer after his first two seasons at Feather River. Reaching an elite level of pitching is no small task, especially for an Alaskan baseball player offered limited playing time due to the endless winters. Monaghan said that his coaches at Wasilla High School helped him break through the barrier and reach an elite level of pitching.
Monaghan thanked head coach Ken Ottinger and assistants Brody Coleman and Kyle Simmons.
“I’d work out in a garage with Kyle throughout the winters in Cooper Hansons garage.
They’re like a rare breed those two. Honestly they really know how to relate to their players and talk to them and help them out,” said Monaghan.
Monaghan described one of his most challenging moments where he faced San Joaquin Delta, a dynastic program that constantly ranks among the best in the country. Monaghan was worried about facing their lineup with just a fastball and decided to fiddle around in the bullpen with fellow Wasilla product, Jeffery Forster.
“Jeffery’s like, that was gross, and I was like cool looks like I’m sticking with that,” laughed Monaghan.
But midway through Monaghan’s sophomore season at Feather River, disaster struck. Hoping that he would be able to transfer to a Division 1 school, Monaghan suffered an injury to his pitching elbow.
“I was leading the state in strikeouts and then boom, I had like a partial tear in my [ulnar collateral ligament]. So I sat for eight weeks and then like all those other division 1 schools that called me just gone just like that… It sucked. I cried right when I got hurt. I was super upset because I mean literally like I was riding such a high and so it kind of me humbled me at the time,” said Monaghan. “it really just tests your patience and it sucks. Honestly you just go home after one of the weekend games you're like it’s just like a deep sigh like man, this could be different right now.”
Monaghan returned to the lineup at Austin Peay and found his delivery, throwing four innings against Middle Tennessee and Evansville in April.
“I started off pretty slow at the d1 level and then at the end of the season I did really well once I found that consistent arm path again,” said Monaghan.
With the injury behind him and another successful season in the ABL under his belt, Monaghan returns to Texas to improve his pitching and continue his successful baseball career. While Monaghan’s dreams are to make it to professional baseball, his backup plan is to take after Miners General Manager Pete Christopher and get into the business of baseball. As the local member of the Miners, Monaghan has had an added responsibility of being the de facto tour guide to all of the out of state players that make their summer home at Hermon Brothers.
“You have to set a good example for starters. Always talk to the kids, always sign their balls always do that stuff and enjoy it and have a conversation with them because the parents really enjoy it too and it just builds on the fanbase,” said Monaghan.
Monaghan has offered impromptu trips around the Valley to show his teammates the natural beauty of his home state. Besides the home cooking, the home crowd is also an added incentive to playing summer ball near his home town. Head Coach Tyler LeBrun says that there is nothing more electric than when the home crowd hears Nolan Monaghan’s name announced to raucous cheers.
“It’s good it’s honestly electric, like people are on your back and they’re all cheering for you. It feels good it gives you that little extra juice just to get that strikeout,” said Monaghan.
While Monaghan is happy to be back in Division 1 baseball, he is sad to leave his Miners teammates. Monaghan still maintains groupchats with players from his previous two seasons, and marvels at his Snapchat maps littered with elite baseball players around the country.
“This is a damn good group of guys. This is a fantastic group. We’re going to miss each other dude, it’s going to be sad, honestly same with the year before the electric factory. The pitching staff, again we still have a snapchat group chat that we still talk in almost every day,” said Monaghan.
But the most important fan in the stands when Monaghan takes the bump is not a college coach or professional scout, but his mother.
“My mom has just been supportive through everything,” said Monaghan. “She loves watching my games more than I love playing the games.”