Left-handed power pitcher Daniel Norris has started his professional career, you might say, by getting ahead in the count.
After signing with the Toronto Blue Jays for $2 million – an organizational high in 2011 – on Aug. 15, the Science Hill graduate began easing any front-office concerns about the investment with a solid showing this month in the Florida Instructional League.
Norris, based at the Blue Jays facility in Dunedin, Fla., for the month-long league, was the first to pitch for Toronto when he took the mound against the New York Yankees affiliate on Sept. 28.
Norris said he was consistently at 92-93 mph, and topped out at 95 during league games. The velocity was down slightly, but he said that seemed to be the case with everyone. Toronto pitching coordinator Dane Johnson, Norris says, expects fatigue during high school graduates' initial autumn.
Some of the players in the league included Scott Podsednik, Dominic Brown and Joe Blanton.
“It was just really cool being on the same field as those guys,” Norris said, “because I’ve been watching them on TV.”
Norris was considered to have one of the more promising showings in the league commonly referred to as Instructs, according to writer Daniel Feingold on FutureJays.com. Norris was pleased with his first taste of the pro ranks, which consisted of two-inning appearances.
“My first game, my debut or whatever, I threw well,” Norris said. “But I did leave a ball up and a guy took it about 450 feet off a building. So that wasn’t too good. That’s the thing: You make a mistake and they’re gonna make you pay for it. You’ve gotta learn from that, and I did learn from it.
“I gave up two home runs – basically two mistakes. I mean I gave up some other hits, but I had a lot of success. I only threw two innings at a time, and each time I had two or three strikeouts. And I kept the ball down and I was breaking a lot of bats. I felt really good about how I threw.”
Norris instantly warmed to Johnson, whose dry wit evoked images of Science Hill assistant football coach Paul Overbay.
“Dane Johnson is a really cool guy,” Norris said. “I like him a lot. We had some really good talks down there.
“He reminds me of Paul Overbay. His humor – I love it – is like the driest humor ever. Some of the guys didn’t get it because it was so dry, but I got it. Everything he said, it was just hilarious.”
They did work on a minor adjustment in Norris’ mechanics.
“For the most part, they were just sitting back and watching,” Norris said. “We did make some adjustments. I have sort of a late tilt when I throw. My shoulders tend to, like, tilt backwards as I’m kind of pushing forward.
“Our main objective was to keep the tilt, but to do it before I was making movement towards the plate … do all of my movement while I’m over the rubber and in a balanced position.”
Norris doesn’t know if he’ll begin the 2012 season with the Appalachian League’s Bluefield Blue Jays. The Midwest League’s Lansing Lugnuts and the Vancouver Canadians of the Northwest League are other potential launch points.
Beginning in Bluefield would likely mean getting to pitch in Cardinal Park, where he pitched home games in high school.
“I think it’d be cool to throw in front of everybody, but at the end of the day it’s really up to them,” Norris said. “I’m not gonna say ‘Hey, will you put me here so I can throw in front of my hometown.’ … We won’t know until Spring Training, really.”
Norris is considering spending part of the offseason in Johnson City giving lessons at the Edge.
“That was my go-to place to hit during the winter,” he said. “There was really no other place you could do that.”
Norris said if he does offer paid lessons, it’d likely be with 50 percent of the money going to FCA, Young Life and/or other area Christian organizations.
“I feel so blessed to just be playing the game of baseball for a living,” Norris said. “Honestly, it hasn’t hit me yet.”
The Edge, which will reopen to the public Tuesday, appears to be in for a busy winter. The Edge’s Sam Barnett said professional players Paul Hoilman, Chas Byrne, Jeremy Owens and Bo Reeder will all be giving lessons in the offseason, as will Texas Rangers minor-league pitching coordinator Danny Clark, who attended games 3, 4 and 5 of the World Series.
Indeed, the Edge has a fall-classic flavor these days. St. Louis closer Jason Motte was the Edge’s opener (first employee).
Motte briefly played for the Johnson City Cardinals, and his brother Justin played at Science Hill.