Skilled on the field, but not quite at the same level in the basics of adult life, Alex Bregman made an offer.
He had two roommates at LSU for his sophomore year. One was a neat freak in Aaron Nola. Bregman was quite the opposite. He said he would pay his roommates or buy groceries if they were willing to do his laundry for him.
“‘I don’t know how to work this washer and dryer,’” former roommate and teammate Henri Faucheux recalled Bregman saying. “I said, I got a simple solution for this. I said, ‘Come here, I’ll show you exactly how to work this. It’s not hard at all.’”
“Definitely, cleaning was not his priority.”
That was just one difference between Nola and Bregman. Numerous LSU teammates, along with their head coach, spoke to The Athletic this week about their unique dynamic. They were two complete opposites who were able to form a friendship that transcended things like laundry or cleanliness.
Fun Fact: Alex Bregman and Aaron Nola were roommates while playing at LSU pic.twitter.com/HgpGOeNElO
— Calico Joe (@CalicoJoeMLB) October 26, 2022
The Astros and Phillies will square off in the World Series beginning Friday. More than that, Nola will be Philadelphia’s Game 1 starting pitcher. Alex Bregman will almost certainly be batting fourth as the Astros’ third baseman. They’ll face off in a meeting with the highest stakes imaginable on a baseball diamond.
For those that knew them when they were just 19 or 20 years old, it’s significant. Two elite players, teammates and friends now getting to add this chapter.
“Alex played with a lot of emotion, a lot of energy,” former LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said. “He sprinted on and off a field. He played 1,000 miles per hour with his hair on fire. Aaron was just very cool. He walked slow to the mound. He never was boisterous. If he struck a batter out, he was ho-hum, another batter.”
The way both players operated on the field, as described by Mainieri, mirrored the way they were off it, as well. Nola is from Baton Rouge. This was his home and his comfort zone. Bregman is from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Bregman had played for the national teams; he’d showcased himself. He was considered a prospect. Nola, less so. He was from the area and LSU was a natural fit because the coaches had seen him pitch so often.
But their differences ended up meshing. Nola was still able to get Bregman to go out fishing in their backyard pond, a skill he picked up quickly. They practiced shooting cans with pellet guns out there, too. Nola’s hobbies became Bregman’s.
It wasn’t impossible to get the more reserved Nola out to a party, either. This was more in line with Bregman’s interests.
“(Nola would) go to the party, but he wouldn’t be the face of it,” said former LSU teammate and current Washington Nationals outfielder Andrew Stevenson. “Whereas Bregman, he’ll be the life-of-the-party type. It’s kind of two different personalities, but it worked. Otherwise, they would have had the same personality and clashed.”
But, Stevenson conceded, “I’m sure Bregman dragged him to a few more things than he wanted to come to.”
One commonality the players did have — a factor and central tenant of their friendship — was outworking everyone to perfect their baseball craft.
Bregman was known by teammates to want to hit at literally all hours of the day. It could be midnight and he might be hanging with a group of friends. And he’d suggest they go to the field. If the stadium lights were on at night, it’s probably because Bregman was there.
It’s not that Nola craved the same discombobulated hours for practice. He spent a lot of time in the weight room, by himself. But he wasn’t there into the a.m. hours. He did, though, gravitate toward Bregman, a person who shared in the work ethic, and it helped Nola become the only person ever named SEC pitcher of the year in consecutive seasons.
In all, Nola went 30-6 with a 2.09 ERA and 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings for the Tigers from 2012-14. Bregman hit .337/.409/.514 over 196 games at LSU from 2013-15.
“When you have two people who share the same values and the same work ethic, that kind of brings you close together,” teammate Raph Rhymes said. “I think they had the same mindset and the same goals to be the absolute best. That’s what kind of got them close.”
They were the absolute best. That was the commonality. They weren’t best friends. A 2018 Houston Chronicle article characterized the two as reconnecting at the All-Star Game that season after following each other from afar at the outset of their pro careers. It’s unclear how much they’ve kept in contact over the years.
It’s not that there are any issues between them. It’s that the foundation of their relationship was greatness at LSU. That’s what each achieved. They elevated each other in that way during that period of time.
“Alex is way more vocal, way more emotional. Aaron’s very quiet,” said former LSU teammate Mason Katz, who added that Nola is his son’s godfather. “It’s hard to get any answer emotionally out of Aaron. But I think that’s the common ground in their relationship. Just how much they wanted to succeed and how hard they push each other.”
Before the two ever became roommates, there was a moment that, in theory, could have disrupted the entire foundation of their relationship.
LSU had one of its best regular seasons ever in 2013. Mainieri said it was the best team he’s ever coached. It was 57-9 entering the College World Series and had an excellent chance to win the title. Nola was throwing a gem in the eighth inning of a tied game against UCLA.
Nola was on the verge of getting through the inning when Bregman booted a ball at shortstop. It ran up his arm and went into left-center field, allowing an unearned run to score. LSU lost 2-1 and was eliminated after its next game.
“Just knowing the kind of guy Nola is,” said former LSU teammate Chris Cotton, “he’s never a guy to show up an infielder or show up anybody making an error behind him. Let alone ever hold a grudge against anybody.
“If anything, he realizes that it got to Bregman that he did that. Bregman’s the kind of guy to hold that error on himself and hold himself accountable for that. Nola’s the kind of guy to say, ‘Dude, it’s not your fault. That happens.’
“If anything, that got them closer.”
Now, it will be Bregman hoping to hurt Nola’s chances at a championship. And visa versa. For everyone who played with them during their two overlapping seasons, this World Series is especially cool.
Mainieri drove a little more than four hours from his home in Louisiana to Houston for the final series of the season. The Astros were hosting the Phillies in early October. He wanted to visit two of his best players ever, and he got to see them go head-to-head for the first time in their careers. Bregman went 0 for 2 (groundout, foul out) against Nola in an Oct. 3 showdown.
During that series, there was a little bit of irony.
Mainieri had dinner plans with Bregman after the first game of the series, then pregame lunch plans with Nola the next day.
At the dinner, Mainieri said Bregman was reminiscing about all the times he wanted to get Nola to come out, while Nola preferred a night in with his guitar. Sometimes Bregman would stay and sing, too.
Those next-day lunch plans? They were canceled. The Phillies had clinched the first playoff berth in more than a decade the night before. And Nola, well, he’d partied a little too hard. They’d have to reunite in the offseason instead.
For as different as the two players were and are, there’s still one similarity: They celebrate the joy of winning.
“The old saying that opposites attract each other is apropos,” Mainieri said, “because you could see they had a very close friendship although their personalities were completely different.
“But the commonality between the two of them. They were both great at what they did.
“Probably the best pitcher I ever coached. And probably the best position player I’ve ever coached. And I had them at the same time.”
(Photo from Oct. 3: Tim Warner / Getty Images)