By Dave Ongie
As Daniel Norris spoke to a group of kids who participated in his fifth-annual Art of Pitching clinic at the RBI Tri-Cities baseball facility last Saturday, he knew they all wanted to be in his shoes.
At 25 years old, Norris was a first-round draft pick in 2014 out of Science Hill High School and is currently a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. When Norris asked the kids who wanted to pitch in the Major Leagues one day, every hand shot up toward the ceiling. So he told them how to put that dream into action.
“Look to the guy on your right,” Norris said. “Now look to the guy on your left. You’ve got to work harder than them.”
The advice was simple, but it’s not easy to put into practice. After signing autographs and sending the campers on their way, Norris reiterated how much work it takes to make it to the Big Leagues and hold on to a roster spot once you get there.
“Nothing comes easy,” he said. “It might seem like it comes easy for a little bit, but it’s not sustainable. You have to work hard, and that was one thing I realized early on. One thing I’ll never be at fault for is not working hard. If you work hard and you’re honest, you’ll find ways to be happy.”
Norris’ work ethic and positive attitude were put to the test last season when he had to undergo groin surgery. The hard work he did to rehab his body took place far away from the bright lights and big crowds of the ballpark, but Norris came through it and is poised to reclaim a spot in Detroit’s starting rotation this season.
“There for a while, going through rehab after groin surgery was really hard on me,” he said. “Mentally, physically, it was very tough. But I’m finally able to get stronger and work toward getting back to normal, and I’m feeling pretty good.”
Last Friday, Norris signed a one-year, $1.275 million contract with the Tigers. This season he expects to be fully healthy, in the Tigers’ starting rotation and in position to secure a long-term contract moving forward.
“If I come into Spring Training and I’m throwing hard and I’m myself, then I’m going to be a starter and I’m going to be a starter for a very long time,” Norris said. “That’s basically just fact. If I perform to my ability, it will all take care of itself.”
Will Carter and Reed Hayes were among those on hand Saturday to help Norris run his annual camp. Like Norris, Carter and Hayes played their high school baseball at Science Hill. Now both men are at the start of their respective climbs to the Big Leagues. Carter pitched in the New York Yankees organization last year while Hayes, who finished his collegiate career at Vanderbilt, completed last season in the Baltimore Orioles’ farm system.
Carter said the bond he shares with Hayes and Norris has proven invaluable.
“Reed and Daniel, we always push each other, talk about getting there and being there together,” Carter said. “It’s really good to have people in this area who want the same thing and have the same passion as you do.”
Echoing Norris’ words, Carter and Hayes both talked about the importance of developing mental toughness to survive the daily grind of professional baseball. Hayes said he struggled last season with not getting too emotionally high after a good performance and not getting too far down after a bad showing.
But as he worked with the kids at Saturday’s camp, he was reminded of the childhood dream that makes all the work worthwhile.
“I see myself in them three or four years ago when I was still in college shooting for the same goal,” Hayes said. “The dream is great; it’s just a lot of work and dedication to get there.”