Daniel Norris’ final season with the East Cobb Yankees ended last week. His potential career with the Toronto Blue Jays could unofficially begin next week.
The former Science Hill pitcher, a second-round selection in last month’s Major League Baseball draft, expects negotiations to begin in earnest after a thorough physical. Thus far, money matters apparently haven’t mattered.
“I’ll be honest, I haven’t talked with them about money at all so far, and probably won’t for another couple of weeks,” Norris said Monday evening. “The only thing I’ve really talked to them about was setting up an MRI … just kind of as a precautionary thing. So I’m probably going down to Florida here in about a week and get that taken care of. …
“It’s a normal thing. Every draft pick usually has to do it before they sign. You know, if they’re going to invest in you they want to make sure that you’re healthy.”
Norris also has a standing offer from Clemson that’s weighing on him. The hard-throwing left-hander is facing a difficult decision, one that reminds him of when he decided to give up high school football.
“That was one of the toughest decisions of my life,” he said.
Obviously, the stakes are much higher now. Among the sources of stress: Norris doesn’t want to disappoint the Clemson coaching staff or shortchange his potential bank account. Ending his career as a center fielder and batter is difficult to digest, too.
So off the top of his head, Norris handicaps the chances of him signing with Toronto at 50-50.
“I’ll lay in bed at night and think about it and I’m just like, ‘I’ve always been a Clemson fan and going there would be so great,’” Norris said. “But it’s like — it honestly is 50-50. It does take a lot of thinking with my family and kind of planning things out. …
“Not only do I have to decide if I want to go to Clemson or the Blue Jays, but I have to decide if I want to lay the bat down and not play the outfield anymore. That definitely ties into it. It’s kind of funny, actually — me and my sister were out in the front yard and she was throwing tennis balls to me and I was hitting them, and I was like, ‘This could be the last time swinging a bat.’
“Clemson has offered me as a two-way player and able to play the outfield, and I mean I can’t tell you how much that appeals to me. I love just playing every day. That’s going to be a tough decision in itself — having to lay the bat down.”
Norris played outfield for East Cobb when he wasn’t pitching, or he was often in the lineup as a designated hitter the day before he pitched. He generally batted fourth in the order, or sixth against left-handers.
On the mound, he said he was consistently 92-94 mph, and was told he reached 97 more than once. He was averaging nearly two strikeouts per inning until what he said was a two-strikeout, four-inning outing in the Yankees’ final game, a semifinal loss to the Memphis Tigers in a Connie Mack Southeast Regional semifinal on Friday. A heat index well into triple digits in Atlanta made it a sweat-soaked swan song.
“It was just a very hot day and just a lackadaisical game for us completely,” Norris said. “I was absolutely drained pitching. I would put my hat on and sweat was just dripping off the bill of it. It was extremely hot — probably one of the hottest days all summer, actually.”
Former Science Hill teammate Will Carter also played for East Cobb this summer. Carter, an East Tennessee State signee, and Norris have essentially been teammates for life. They led Johnson City Major to a runner-up finish in the 10-under Little League state tournament, and finished third in a talented USSSA national tournament in Maryland when they were 13 and won a Dizzy Dean World Series for the Junior Toppers travel team.
“We’ve grown up together and played all three sports together — basketball, football and baseball,” Norris said. “We’ve spent pretty much every waking minute with each other over the past — I mean gosh, it’s been about 10, 11 or 12 years.”
They spent the previous two summers on different teams.
“But this summer the opportunity came for him to be able to come down, and that was really great for us to be around each other again and just play,” Norris said. “In the regional we were like, ‘Man, this could be our last game playing with each other.’ We talk about that state tournament sometimes and some of those other big tournaments where we played some good teams. It was really cool just to reflect on some things and look back, you know, and see what all we’ve been through together.”
They could be on the same field again. ETSU played at Clemson this past season.
“I love Clemson a lot — I really do,” Norris said. “It’s a great school and a great fit for me. The coaching staff there’s just wonderful. I can’t put into words how well they’ve treated me there — Coach (Bradley) LeCroy, Coach (Dan) Pepicelli and Coach (Jack) Leggett.”
Norris said Clemson’s orientation is Aug. 17-19. The signing deadline with Toronto is Aug. 15.
“As of right now I’m going to Clemson the 17th through the 19th,” he said. “I don’t know for sure, so I need to plan out for both options.”
Toronto has acquired a lot of young talent since Alex Anthopoulos took over as general manager in October of 2009. Norris has communicated with 2010 first-round pick Deck McGuire and 2011 first-round pick Tyler Beede, who remains unsigned. Perhaps Beede’s signing would set many wheels in motion.
Norris might start in the Appalachian League in Bluefield, W.Va., if he signs with Toronto. In fact, he would probably begin there next year even if he is with that affiliate the final few weeks of this season.
The Johnson City Cardinals host Bluefield for a three-game series Aug. 6-8. A more realistic return to Northeast Tennessee would be Bluefield’s visit to Greeneville (Aug. 22-24).
Norris could pitch again in Cardinal Park, where he pitched in high school.
“That’d be pretty cool for sure,” Norris said. “We haven’t really talked about that (being assigned to Bluefield). I’m sure, you know, as we get closer, that’ll be in the discussion. That would be nice — it’d be cool — if I were to sign with them, but we’ll just have to wait and see, I guess.”