When Science Hill High School (Johnson City, Tenn.) and East Cobb Yankees (Marietta, Ga.) standout left-hander Daniel Norris learned Perfect Game had him ranked as the nation’s top prospect in the high school class of 2011, he had two immediate reactions – if that’s possible.
There was an initial sense of gratitude.
“When I first heard about it and went and looked at it, the first thing that came into my head was, what a high honor,” Norris said. “For people to think that highly of me, just seeing me a couple of times and to project me as that, it’s really touching and it’s exciting.”
There was also an initial sense of mission.
“I’m going to have to work extra hard to stay here,” he remembered thinking. “Honestly, for you-all to rank me No. 1, it’s made me a harder worker. I remember seeing a quote … that said ‘It’s easier to become No. 1 than to remain No. 1.’ It really kind of stuck with me.
“Being ranked No. 1 really has done a lot for me, not only from a public standpoint but from a mental standpoint for myself. It’s made me work even harder.”
The hard work is paying dividends as Norris, 17, continues to enjoy a phenomenal summer playing for the Yankees. A recent Perfect Game scouting report described Norris as having “absolutely electric stuff.”
He showed off his 94 mph fastball, wicked curve and 75 mph change at the PG National Showcase - an individual event for the nation's top 200 players - at Tampa’s Tropicana Field over four days in late June. He used those same impressive pitches to help the East Cobb Yankees reach the Connie Mack World Series in Farmington, N.M. Aug. 6-8 (the Yankees went 1-2 in Farmington and were eliminated in the third round).
He was also selected to participate in the Aflac All-American Baseball Classic in San Diego on Aug. 15, and during the annual awards banquet the night before the game, Norris was named Baseball America’s Pitcher of the Year.
That was just the beginning. The topper came a little later when he received the the 2010 Jackie Robinson Award representative of the Aflac National High School Player of the Year.
National MLB analyst Frankie Piliere, writing for mlb.fanhouse.com, had this to say about Norris’ appearance at the Aflac Classic:
“After seeing him at the PG National, Norris left me excited to see more, and he did not disappoint at Aflac. He once again showed plus raw stuff, sitting 92-94 mph with his fastball, and showing off that big swing-and-miss breaking ball. The feel for his low-80s changeup was something that jumped out as well. In other words, Norris is still clearly the top prep lefty in the class.”
Yes, it’s been quite a summer, as Jimmy Buffett once crooned. Norris relocated to Atlanta again this summer to play for East Cobb Baseball, and essentially did what we all aspire to do. He lived his dream.
“Overall it’s been great. I’m doing what I love – I wake up every day and I get to play ball,” Norris said in early August. “We knew (as a family) that’s what we were going into and I said, ‘Yeah, let’s go for it.’ This is my life, you know, just getting up every day and getting to play, and it’s a blessing. It is. It’s a privilege to be able to play every day and I feel blessed to be able to go out there and have fun with my teammates and just play the game I love.”
Norris said it was difficult at times being away from his family and friends who were still back in Johnson City, but he chooses to confront those emotions with a maturity and an insight not often seen in 17-year-olds.
“I’m spending the summer with my heart,” he said with profound sincerity. “My heart is baseball. At some point I’m going to have to (say goodbye to) a lot of friends for baseball if the opportunity of pro ball or college ball come in front of me.
“I have a lot of best friends back home and I have a girlfriend back home, but it’s been good. I’m chasing a dream and they have my back 100 percent.”
Norris raves about his association with Perfect Game and the opportunities it has afforded him. He first took part in the 2008 PG WWBA 18U National Championships as a 6-foot-1, 150-pound 15-year-old, and has competed in six more showcases or tournaments since, most recently as a 6-3, 190-pounder.
“It’s very important and some of the people who go to it may not even realize how important it is,” Norris said. “The good thing about it is, if you go out there one time … and say you have a bad outing or you don’t play like you wish you would have. Well, there’s going to be another game, there’s going to be another outing, there’s going to be another showcase, and (the college coaches and pro scouts are) going to be there again for you to prove yourself.
“That’s a very good thing about Perfect Game,” he continued “It’s a very great opportunity and I tell all my friends to do as many of them as they can because there are so many scouts there, there are so many important people there to watch you, and if you do things right, you’re going to get some good looks. I really appreciate the opportunities.”
Norris has been heavily recruited and hasn’t made college choice yet, although he indicated he may announce his decision in late summer or early fall. Clemsen, Vanderbilt, North Carolina and Georgia Tech are currently on his short list.
He formerly played football and basketball at Science Hill, but gave up basketball last year and won’t go out for football this fall despite being the team’s returning starting quarterback. He will play fall baseball instead.
“I love football and I love basketball, but honestly, I’ve never had a day off since seventh grade,” Norris said. “As an athlete, that was fine with me for a long time. I’m not going to play football this year and people say it’s too risky, but I’m not thinking that way. I’m not thinking, ‘OK, I don’t want to risk what I have.’ It’s not because I don’t want to risk something, it’s just that I need to work on baseball as much as I can.”
Incredibly, Norris maintains he has never lifted a weight in his life, not even when he was playing football. He explained to his football coaches that he didn’t want to anything to harm his talented left arm or his upper body, and because they knew baseball was his future, they were good with that.
He said he may start some sort of program this fall, but it would be a regimen that emphasizes strengthening his legs instead of his upper body. For the time being, workouts consist primarily of running, bike riding, sit-ups and push-ups.
Norris, a well-spoken young man of deep faith, is single-minded in his purpose. His modesty is overwhelming and matched only by his determination to follow his dream to a satisfactory conclusion. When asked what he felt is strength is as a ballplayer, he didn’t hesitate.
“I’d have to say the passion I have for the game,” he replied. “It’s my life and I love the game as much as I love anything else. I go out there and I play as hard as I can every day, not because I want people to think I’m a good ballplayer, but because I owe it to the game of baseball. I play for the passion of the game and I also play for the glory of God.”
More glory days are sure to follow.