Mike Nolan spent years fighting for his baseball career. Now, he’s fighting for his life.
The 23-year-old Yonkers native was shot twice in the parking lot of a Burger King at 826 Central Ave. just after 12:30 a.m. Friday and was in “extremely critical condition” at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, according to authorities.
“He’s better now than he was when he got there,” said Chuck Alben, Nolan’s former baseball coach at Saunders High School, Friday afternoon. “What that means, I don’t know, but I’m taking the road of positive thinking. There are a lot of people there supporting him and he’s fighting.”
Nolan had blossomed into a Major League Baseball prospect and was selected by the Oakland Athletics in the 18th round (552nd overall) of the 2014 first-year player draft.
At 6-foot-7, the lanky left-hander has measurables that professional scouts love, but it took him years to harness his talent.
“I just wanted the best opportunity to get drafted,” Nolan told The Journal News in June 2014. “It’s kind of sad because there’s not much that Yonkers can do because of the money, but I’ve always loved baseball. I started going to all of these showcases.”
The public high schools in Yonkers have traditionally struggled to field competitive baseball teams, but Saunders thrived when Nolan was there.
“2009 was a special year for us,” Alben said. “I’ll never forget working with that group of kids. They all came from different backgrounds. We set the school record for wins that year, and Mike was a huge part of that. I remember Mike getting the win when we beat John Jay-East Fishkill, and that was the biggest win that we had outside of the City of Yonkers.”
In order to continue his baseball career after high school, Nolan had to scratch and claw for every opportunity. He bounced around at junior colleges in Oklahoma and Texas, eventually settling in at Oklahoma City University.
Another bump in the road came in 2010 when Nolan had Tommy John surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow, which could have derailed his career. But Nolan rehabbed and came back even stronger, with his fastball topping out at 95 mph post-surgery.
“Once Tommy John came around, I just started appreciating baseball even more,” Nolan said last year. “I just felt like if I didn’t push myself to get back, I would be a letdown to my little brothers. I wanted to make my family proud.”
Nolan, who is the second-oldest of four sons, often spoke glowingly about his family. He has an older brother, Jim, and has always been protective of his younger brothers, Joe and Nick.
“It’s a tight-knit family,” said Saunders basketball coach Anthony Nicodemo, who has coached Mike, Joe and now Nick, who is a junior. “I’m lucky enough to have coached three of the four. As a family, they have that toughness, and I think they kind of pass it down to each other. … I’ve never seen a family that would give the shirt off their back like that.”
Yonkers Chief of Detectives Timothy Hodges said five or six shots were fired at the Mercedes, hitting Nolan in the head and torso.
Police think the shooting might have been related to an argument Wednesday evening about a drag race, Police Commissioner Charles Gardner said. Young people often drag race down the service road that runs parallel to the Thruway, he said; police have stepped up enforcement and reduced the practice, but it continues to be an issue.
Gardner said Nolan was with several other people at the fast food restaurant, across from the Cross County Shopping Center. He said investigators believe the shooter was targeting someone in the group, but were not sure if that was Nolan or someone else.
Police believe a white or pale yellow 2000-07 two-door Honda might have been involved in the incident. They asked anyone with information in the case to contact the Detective Division at 914-377-7724 or send an anonymous text with the keyword ‘ypd’ plus the tip to 847411.
Nick Nolan took to Twitter on Friday to share some optimism, tweeting, “Let my brother pull through,” and, “He’ll be good.” Many others tweeted using the hashtags #pray4MikeNolan and #pray4Mike.
There were about 50 people at the hospital Friday to support the Nolans.
“He’s such a great individual with a big heart and a passion to do anything he wanted,” Nolan’s best friend and former Saunders classmate Matt Clayton said. “Right now is not the time for him to be an angel, so he will fight until he makes a full recovery.”
“It’s not an easy day, and as a basketball coach, you don’t think this is going to happen — a former player fighting for his life,” Nicodemo said. “We just have to make sure we’re all there for the family as a community, because whenever something happens, they’re there for us. It’s our time to return the favor.”
Staff writer Jane Lerner contributed to this report.