And if all goes to plan, Lakeland will be the starting point for a successful season in the Detroit Tigers’ starting rotation.
Being a starting pitcher in Major League Baseball is different from the every-day routine of position players. But what does the average day look like for Norris when he is the scheduled starter?
The hard-throwing left-hander said everything starts. …
The Night Before
Norris is a creature of habit, like many major-league athletes. His night-before dinner is part of that routine as Norris seeks a restaurant that prepares salmon to his liking.
Along with the fishy feast, Norris said he’s already conscious about hydrating.
“With dinner I usually have four or five glasses of water,” he said. “I’m starting to hydrate really well.”
After dinner, Norris sets his sights on an early bedtime. But there is one thing that can pull him away from it.
“I try to get in a bed at a decent hour, but sometimes I stay up watching film,” said Norris.
Baseball film study is an intricate process these days, and there is plenty of material from which Norris can choose. Does Norris want to see every Clayton Kershaw curveball against left-handed hitters in 2015? It’s available.
“They have a bunch of computers at the field with basically every pitch from everywhere,” said Norris. “It’s real simple. If I want to see Alex Rodriguez against left-handed changeups or David Ortiz versus left-handed sliders, it comes up with however many that is. It’s pretty helpful.
“I like to watch film on myself, to make sure I’m in rhythm. I rewatch my last start. That’s really helpful.
“And I like to watch other pitchers, Kershaw against right-handed batters with a 1-2 count, and I can see how he attacks hitters like that.”
Game day and nutrition
Norris is awake early, energy building for the assignment ahead. In the morning he’s hanging out and relaxing, and when it’s time for lunch it usually means sushi — and, of course, more water.
Regardless of whether he’s pitching or not, Norris is very strict about the things he chooses to eat.
“I’m very conscious about what I put in my body, offseason and in-season,” said Norris. “It can be a little more difficult in-season because you’re playing late and you want to eat and get back to the hotel.
“But I try to be the best athlete I can be on the mound. Nutrition has always been an important part of it.”
Norris has recently seen just how dramatic eating right and exercising consistently can be. He weighed in three years ago at 200 pounds and 13 percent body fat. But last year he was at 195 pounds and 7.4 percent body fat, heading into spring training with the Blue Jays.
By the end of the season, his body-fat percentage had moved back to 8.4 and he was still right at 200 pounds.
“At the end of the year I didn’t feel as good body-wise as I did at the beginning of the year,” said Norris. “So I took it to another level. I’ve been working out twice a day, and focusing on diet.”
Norris had a physical at the TigersFest earlier this year, and weighed in at 193 pounds and 3.7 percent body fat.
“It’s huge to see me reap the benefits of nutrition,” said Norris. “I want to be the best athlete I can be on the mound. What I’ve been doing has been working, and I want to be successful.”
Arriving at the stadium
Still just a youngster to major-league eyes and having a lot to prove, Norris hasn’t been taking chances on offending the veterans.
“Being a younger player, I was told to be one of the first ones there,” said Norris. “I usually get to the field at 12:30 or 1 p.m — at home or on the road. That way I can get my workout in, throw, and be there and be ready for the day.”
Pre-game routine and faith
Norris is almost ready to put on his uniform, but first he goes through a physical routine. Included in the mix is a stretching process with the trainers, arm-care attention, medicine ball work, and so forth.
It’s also time for a snack, and Norris said he usually relies on yogurt and bananas.
Then Norris retreats to his locker, where he likes to spend some time with a familiar companion: his Bible.
“I hang out and read my Bible at my locker,” said Norris. “It’s a mindset thing. It’s comfort. It really calms me before my game, going out there and having faith in God, and I just go out there and play for Him. Obviously there have been situations where I’ve tried to do too much, but before the game it just helps me keep in my mind how small this really is.”
And Norris has like-minded brothers on the team.
“We have a really good core group of Christian guys I can hang around, and we all have the same mindset,” said Norris. “It has been really helpful. There’s definitely a good group of guys who are focused on our relationship with God.”
It’s time to do what he gets paid for, and Norris is mentally and physically armed for the battle.
“I’m very routine-oriented,” said Norris. “I have to check all of the boxes, and make sure I do everything I need to do to get ready.
“I just remember what (former Blue Jays standout) Roy Halladay told me. He said you never want to go out on the mound on the fifth day when you’re starting and think in your head, ‘Oh, I forgot to do this.’ He said he wanted to tell himself, ‘Yes, I did everything in my power to prepare for this start.’ ”
On the mound for the game’s first pitch, Norris’ work day begins in earnest. After the first inning is over, he returns to the dugout and awaits his next half-inning task.
“I kind of replay the inning that just happened, thinking about what I can do better,” said Norris. “If the catcher isn’t hitting, I talk to him about how to attack guys. And I’m still drinking a lot of water, and making sure my body feels right.”
Norris remains in game mode until the manager comes with the hook. If it happens during the middle of an inning, Norris said he stays in the dugout to watch the frame play out. Then he begins his arm-care routine, including some small-weight lifting and other recovery processes. If the game isn’t over at that point, Norris returns to the dugout.
It may be a little hard to imagine Norris is still just 22 years old. But as young as that is in baseball years, Norris is a veteran in one sense: winning the battle he had with cancer.
He underwent successful thyroid surgery back in October, and said he’s doing great these days.
“Everything is good,” Norris said. “I feel very fortunate to feel 100 percent. I’m healed up, feeling great, and ready to go.”
The 2016 season
Detroit added front-line starting pitcher Jordan Zimmerman along with All-Star outfielder Justin Upton. The Tigers traded for closer Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez, and outfielder Cameron Maybin.
With hitting pieces already in place like Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, Ian Kinsler and Victor Martinez, and starting pitcher Justin Verlander re-discovering his dominance, the Tigers are quietly being spoken of in World Series conversations.
“The excitement is huge for me and the other guys,” said Norris. “We can’t wait to get going. The organization has done everything with signing guys you need, and so we have to go out and perform.
“And I’ve been really preparing for this. It’s up to me to execute my pitches like I know I can. I have a really good feeling about the season. I’m excited to get out there.”
Tigers’ manager Brad Ausmus is Norris’ second cousin. But since baseball is a business that is thicker than blood, Norris is another player on the roster who must perform. And Ausmus is under similar pressure after nearly being let go at the end of last season.
Norris said he believes in Ausmus’ ability to get the Tigers where they want to go.
“He’s a great manager and he runs the clubhouse really well,” said Norris. “He’s very personable, and he’s a funny guy, and everybody loves him. He dealt with a lot last year — losing guys like Justin Verlander — but he handled it really well.
“(The Tigers) had faith in him to bring him back. He was a catcher, so he’s very knowledgeable about pitching and he has really helped me out a lot.”