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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Aaron Nola knew he wanted to be with the Philadelphia Phillies. There was no guarantee the longest-tenured player in the organization would be back. 

Facing free agency for the first time in his career, Nola spent the entire season not thinking about where he was going to play in 2024 and beyond. The Phillies six-time Opening Day starter had to address his future at some point. 

When the Phillies lost in seven games to the Diamondbacks in the NLCS, the future became the present. 

"I went back home and that was tough right? There was no guarantee Philadelphia was gonna bring me back. It was tough," Nola said. "I came here and spent 10 years with them at that time. I made good friendships and relationships. And it wasn't just the players, the staff, the coaches, the workers at the stadiums, the minor-league staffers, coaches, workers at the stadium down there. My wife has made good relationships and friends, so it was tough for both of us.

"Going past baseball, that stuff is really important. And that stuff sticks with you for a lifetime. You make those friendships and relationships that stick with you."

Major League Baseball free agency can take months, but Nola wanted a resolution where he was going. There was interest in one of baseball's premier pitchers from an National League East rival, one Nola had to entertain. 

"I did talk to the Braves," Nola said. "That's just the business part of free agency right? There was no guarantee [the Phillies] were going to offer me or sign me back after the season last year. I went through the process of it, but looking back I'm really blessed to get the deal done early and sign with the team I started out with -- and will finish my career here."

Nola, who will make his first start of the 2024 season on Saturday afternoon against those Braves, knew he wanted to play his entire career in Philadelphia. Teams could offer him more money, but they didn't have what the Phillies offered. Nola has familiarity with the Phillies, and also in a window to win a World Series within the next few years. 

Nola saw this organization evolve from one of the worst organizations in baseball to one of the best. He wasn't going to abandon all the hard work he and the Phillies put in to become a World Series contender. 

"It's nice to come back. Year one of seven on this last stretch to a team that I already know," Nola said. "It's pretty much the same team as last year, and it's a really good team. A team that is championship caliber. I'm lucky to have been through a rebuilding team in a rebuilding era to a championship caliber team. It's really cool to be able to do that, because I feel not may players are able to go through that process unless you are with the same team your whole career. 

"I love how far this organization has come since I came here. It's made me appreciate it a lot more by going through all that." 

If there's a statistic that determines how well someone has pitched over the last six seasons, Nola is on it. Nola is third in baseball in strikeouts (1,209) and second in innings pitched (1,065 1/3). He's 15th in earned run average (3.65) amongst pitchers that have thrown 750+ innings during that span and seventh in strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.41), and seventh in strikeouts per nine innings (10.2). 

Nola has been one of the most reliable pitchers in baseball. The numbers are great, but that's not what Nola wants to prove over the length of his seven-year, $172 million deal. Nola wants to reward the team that has stuck with him through and through. 

"I want to give them a World Series," Nola said. "That's my goal and our goal as a team. We came pretty close the last couple years and we all think we have the team to do it. We think we can do something special. 

"I definitely don't take this team for granted because it's not every day or every year you play for a team that's pretty much the same three years in a row. For the next few years at least, this will be the same squad. We hope we can get one done and bring a championship back to the city of Philadelphia.

"I've been playing the game long enough to know the individual accolades are great and all. Being in the postseason the past couple years and feeling that environment and how pure winning is. This team being a close-knit group makes it that much better. This is what we play for and train for, to get to that moment."

Nola wants to hoist that trophy just as bad as anyone in the Phillies organization. He's set to be a Phillie for life.