Much of the United States has experienced record drought this summer. Too bad it can’t utilize the Canadian farm system.
Toronto Blue Jays pitching prospect Daniel Norris wasn’t scheduled to start any of Bluefield’s three games in his hometown of Johnson City this week, but it seemed fitting that the final game of the three-game series was rained out Friday.
The left-handed Norris’ next scheduled start is supposed to be Saturday night against Bristol in Bluefield, although he said Friday’s rainout could push him back to Sunday.
Norris had rain affect three of his four starts during a stretch in July. The Science Hill graduate had faced two batters in the bottom of the first at Burlington on July 9 when the game was suspended until Aug. 10.
His next start came on three days rest on Friday the 13th thanks to the abbreviated appearance, and he had struck out two during a scoreless first inning when rain came again. Norris didn’t return when the game was resumed 21â„2 hours later, and his next scheduled start was rained out.
“They call me The Rain Man,” Norris said. “It’s kind of stuck.”
Four days rest between appearances all season would’ve led to a start in Johnson City. So rain was essentially the reason one didn’t materialize.
“Honestly, my coaches would’ve been excited for me to pitch here,” Norris said. “They wanted me to throw in my hometown. But just the way professional baseball is – not really breaking that five-day schedule; obviously, rainouts have affected it – there’s not much they let you do as far as missing a start or something like that. They preach the five-day routine and doing everything the same, you know, religiously, basically.
“But I understand it and I’ve bought into it. I was upset. Obviously, I would’ve wanted to throw here, but that’s alright.”
Norris did have a sort of homecoming during a perfect debut while getting a victory in Bristol on Opening Night.
“That was kind of like a dream setting, you know, with all the friends and family there,” he said. “And I went out and threw well. I really had a blast. But looking back on it, it feels like it was just a dream that I had.”
Norris is 2-1 with a 4.97 ERA. There’s cause for optimism. The 19-year-old has struck out 26 in 251â„3 innings and opponents are batting .227. But 10 walks and three home runs have trumped some effective stretches.
“It’s a learning year, but you know, I’m having some success and it’s been fun,” Norris said. “You know, I’ve had maybe a bad outing, but I’ve learned from that and I feel like I’m getting better every time out. … Finally, I think I’m back on track with my days. It’s just been hard with all that rain messing up my schedule.”
Norris said he needs better command within the strike zone, working batters in and out. Bluefield coaches’ main concern is mechanics. They want his delivery to translate into pitches leaving from a higher point.
“It’s kind of weird,” Norris said. “I mean, obviously you want to do good and have numbers and perform, but their main focus is my delivery right now. They’re not concerned about ERA. …
“They won’t me making sure I’m not breaking down on the back leg, because if you break down on your back leg your arm slot will drop. I mean, you can throw from the three-quarters arm slot and be on top of the ball like Roy Halladay does. But the main thing is making sure I’m on top of the ball and throwing it downhill. I’ve been progressing with that, and that’s what they’re happy about.”
Norris, a second-round draft pick who got a $2 million signing bonus last August, has consistently clocked in the low 90s (mph) and reached 95. He said Toronoto general manager Alex Anthopoulos, assistant GM Tony LaCava and scouting director Perry Minasian watched him in three or four straight starts.
“They’ve been in to see me throw quite a few times,” he said. “That’s always a good thing. They’re all really nice guys.”
Norris appreciated being allowed to stay at his home with family while in Johnson City.
“Whenever I need to see family, they’re cool about that,” he said. “They’ve been good to me … and it’s been really good to see my family and be around them.”
You can go home again. And while Norris didn’t pitch in Cardinal Park as a pro, he revisited many memories while there in a Blue Jays uniform this week. A difficult catch in center field against Sullivan South on Senior Night came to mind. So did watching Rick Ankiel pitch and hit for Johnson City in 2001.
His Blue Jays teammates were interested in hearing about that, as well as learning that there used to be a football stadium where Norris played for Science Hill just beyond the right field fence.
“It’s crazy when those memories come back; it makes you feel like it was just yesterday that it happened,” Norris said. “I wanted to throw here really bad, but I guess that’s just how the cookie crumbles.”