While many of the nation’s sports fans were glued to their television sets watching the NCAA men’s basketball tournament Sunday afternoon, Science Hill (Johnson City, Tenn.) High School senior and Perfect Game top-rated left-hander Daniel Norris was watching a different NCAA event.
“I’m actually watching a replay of the Georgia Tech-Miami baseball game (from Saturday),” Norris said after being interrupted by a telephone call. “It’s pretty cool seeing some of my teammates from last summer getting to play for Georgia Tech.”
Norris was speaking of Tech freshmen infielder Mott Hyde and catcher Zane Evans, two of his former teammates with the East Cobb Yankees who have slid seamlessly into the Yellow Jackets’ starting lineup this spring.
Other contributing freshmen on the Jackets’ roster who Norris may have ran into at Perfect Game events the last couple of summers include center fielder Kyle Wren and right-handersMatthew Grimes and Dusty Isaacs.
Norris is Perfect Game’s No. 1-ranked top prospect in the high school graduating class of 2011 who just began his final prep season at Science Hill. He is a year away from playing his first season of NCAA Division I baseball at Clemson – where he has signed – if he plays college baseball at all.
Perfect Game projects Norris to be selected sixth overall in the 1st round of the MLB June Amateur Draft as the first graduated high school senior chosen. Norris won’t celebrate his 18th birthday until April 25, and could potentially become an 18-year-old millionaire if he is a high 1st round pick and decides to sign professionally.
He called the situation he’s in as a probable top-10 pick “surreal.”
“Every kid (thinks about) wanting to be a superstar, but the reality of it when you’re that age and just dreaming and stuff is that it seems so far-fetched. And sometimes it still does,” Norris said. “I’ve always dreamed of being a Major League baseball player and there have been stepping stones that God has placed in my life to be where I need to be.
“If I was to be a top-10 Draft pick, then praise the Lord for that.”
It is a situation Norris can contemplate all spring, although he insists he concentrating only on his final high school season.
“I’m just treating like it’s just another year,” he said. “Honestly, I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t aware of what’s going on, but I’m just out there to play ball. That’s what I love to do and I’m not going to go out there and play just for my success. I’m always out there to play for God, and I’m always going to play as hard as I can and enjoy every game, enjoy my teammates and just have a lot of fun.
“It hasn’t been too stressful so far.”
He made two starts in the early portion of Science Hill’s schedule, and actually lost a game to highly regarded Houston High School (Germantown, Tenn.) on March 24. That loss dropped Norris’ career high school record to 27-2.
Norris was 8-0 last season, with 140 strikeouts in 64 innings and a 1.96 ERA. When he didn’t pitch, he played centerfield and prospered at the plate, batting .483 with seven home runs and 55 RBI.
In his first start this season, Norris worked 6 2/3 hitless innings before being removed because of his pitch-count, with 15 strikeouts in a win over Tennessee High School (Bristol). His fastball was touching the 95-96 mph range, and the Tennessee hitters were helpless.
“It just ain’t fair, is it?” Tennessee High Coach Gill Payne asked TriCities.com in a postgame interview. “This is my 20th year coaching, I’ve scouted professionally, I’ve coached college for 11 years – he’s the best I’ve ever seen at the high school level.”
It’s still early, but Norris is enjoying his final year of high school baseball.
“We just kind of got under way about a week-and-a-half ago and it’s going well,” he said. “We’re having fun … and we’re trying to put things together and win some ballgames.
“I’m feeling great. I was really on a mission this offseason to get into really great shape and stay healthy. I worked really hard and so far it’s paying off.”
Norris took his time making his college choice, and chose Clemson after also considering offers from Vanderbilt, North Carolina and Georgia Tech. He carries a 3.4 GPA and its obvious he enjoys and appreciates the college game.
“Regardless of what happens with the Draft, I don’t consider (college) a fall-back plan,” Norris said. “I’ve been a Clemson Tiger fan all my life. To have such a wonderful opportunity to go there and play ball for (Clemson coach) Jack Leggett …
“I excited; I’m on fire for Clemson,” he said. “I love that place and I wouldn’t really consider it a fall-back plan. I just feel so blessed to have the opportunity and I’m so thankful and grateful for it.”
Norris first established a national profile when he joined the East Cobb Yankees at the 2008 PG WWBA 18U National championship at the East Cobb Complex in Marietta, Ga. – as a 15-year-old.
He continued to participate in Perfect Game events throughout his high school years – including the 2010 National Showcase at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. – and capped it by being named the starting pitcher for the East team in the 2010 Aflac All-American Classic in San Diego last August.
At a banquet the night before the Classic, Norris received the Jackie Robinson Award as the National High School Player of the Year.
“I was 15-years-old when I went down and played with the East Cobb Yankees for the first time, and it helped me get my name out,” Norris said. “I’m up there in northeast Tennessee and Perfect Game puts on those tournaments in Atlanta at the East Cobb Complex, and it’s just a perfect site for it.
“Without Perfect Game I really couldn’t tell you where I’d be. The spot they have ranked me at (No. 1 nationally) has done a lot for me, and I’m very appreciative of it.”
Daniel Norris, the hard-throwing 6-foot-2, 180-pound left-hander from northeast Tennessee, will have a potentially life-changing decision to make in the months ahead. He’s got a good head on his shoulders and certainly appears well-grounded enough to make the one that’s right for him.
“Every day I go in working as hard as I can,” Norris said. “Obviously, the Draft is coming up, and whatever happens with that, happens. I can only control what I can control, is the way I look at it. I can control my work ethic and I can control what I put into it, but I can’t control what people think of me or even the outcome of certain events in a ballgame.
“… You can never get comfortable with where you’re at,” he concluded. “You have to keep working hard every day to get better, because once you get comfortable is when you’ll see things start sliding downhill.”