Stay Stoked: A Look at Daniel Norris

Defeated cancer, lives in a van, and continues to pitch his heart out.

A calming presence, surfer swagger, and a rustic woodsy aesthetic.

It’s rather easy to see why the Detroit TigersDaniel Norris captures the eye off and on the baseball field. Although he has faced multiple setbacks in his seven-year Major League career, Norris continues to prevail.

 

Who is Daniel Norris?

 

At 18 years old, the Toronto Blue Jays drafted Norris in the second round of the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft. With the money earned from his first professional baseball signing bonus, he purchased his own 1978 Volkswagen Westfalia microbus. Naming it Shaggy, Norris soon called the VW bus home.

The Johnson City, TN native did not make his MLB debut until September 5, 2014, against the Boston Red Sox. In his first outing, he went 0.1 IP with one strikeout. The strikeout victim? None other than David Ortiz.

His first official start came on September 23, 2014. During his start, he worked in 3.1 innings, yielding two earned runs on one hit, two walks, and one strikeout. In total for 2014, Norris worked 6.2 innings with the Blue Jays, posting a 5.40 ERA with four Ks and a 1.50 WHIP.

Norris had a bright future ahead of him. It was clear to see. In fact, by January of 2015, MLB named him the third-best LHP Prospect in all of Major League Baseball. Additionally, he was named the Blue Jays’ No. 1 Prospect in the same year.

Meanwhile, Norris continued to live in Shaggy while his teammates often rested in hotels. On one occasion, he decided to park at the Blue Jays’ complex, and nevertheless, he was greeted by the police. Luckily, according to how Norris tells the story, the encounter ended amicably.

While he began the 2015 season in the starting rotation for the Blue Jays, life had a different plan for him.

 

A new life in Detroit

 

On July 30, 2015, the Blue Jays traded Norris along with Matt Boyd and Jairo Labourt to the Detroit Tigers for David Price.

His debut for the Tigers arrived on August 2, 2015. He worked in 7.1 innings, striking out five of the Baltimore Orioles. He allowed one walk, four hits, and just one earned run by giving up a solo shot to Chris Davis.

And even with a new team, Norris continued to shine on the diamond.

On August 19, 2015, in his first career plate appearance, he hit a home run against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. He became the first Tiger to do such in a first plate appearance. Secondly, he was the first to do so since Tommy Milone in 2011 and the first American League pitcher since Esteban Yan in 2000.

He finished his 2015 season posting a 3.75 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP in a total of 60 innings pitched between two Major League clubs.

But once again, life changed quickly for Norris.

 

A diagnosis

 

On October 19, 2015, Norris made an official announcement on his personal Instagram that left many with heavy hearts. At the age of 22, he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. However, the diagnosis had come months before he decided to share with the baseball world. Despite his diagnosis, he continued to play—delaying treatment until the season was completed.

The Blue Jays knew of his diagnosis, as did the Tigers when they acquired him in the Price deal. He had made the Blue Jays’ rotation going into 2015, but once the regular season arrived, that once-sweet mid-90s fastball dropped below 90 on occasion. Concerned, the Blue Jays had Norris checked out.

Consequently, an MRI exam on his shoulder confirmed an injury. Unfortunately, other tests revealed a bigger concern. Assuming it was a dead arm, Norris never dreamed that it was cancer.

With his sister pregnant, he admitted to waiting before telling his family the news of his diagnosis. Nevertheless, his teammates figured it out over time. He admitted between prayer and his treatment team, he felt good. By the end of October 2015, Norris underwent surgery to remove part of his left thyroid.

He told MLB.com in 2015, “I got really lucky.”

 

Pushing through it all

 

A cluster of setbacks has plagued Norris since 2015: a non-displaced fracture in his spinous process, an oblique injury, a groin injury resulting in surgery, and, recently, COVID-19.

And despite all of this, Norris has pushed through it all.

While it might not seem noticeable to the casual baseball viewer, Norris has recently shortened his stride on the mound. And with this, he has found positive results as of late.

“After groin surgery, I went from throwing 93-97 to 88-90 and was trying everything to get it back. Last spring, I made the stride adjustment and all of a sudden saw a couple of 93s,” he said last week while speaking with Pitcher List.

He continued, “It took a lot of getting used to, but I’ve continued to build off it and regain strength. I think that’s why my Velo is coming back now. It was really hard to overhaul my pitching method of operation on the fly, but that’s what made my changeup better.”

“All of a sudden, my biggest weapon (his fastball) was taken away from me. But now that’s coming back, I’m going to be better from it because I’ve learned to use my secondary stuff.”

 

Stay Stoked

 

After his return from testing positive for coronavirus, Norris went 1.2 IP against the Cincinnati Reds on August 2, 2020. He allowed four hits, two runs, two earned runs, two walks, and earned himself a 10.80 ERA.

In his second appearance in 2020, he and teammate Michael Fulmer were a formidable team with a piggyback start. The two teamed up for five scoreless innings against the Chicago White Sox on their home turf. Norris even showed off his athleticism with a diving tag and near-collision after a ground ball hit CJ Cron’s left knee.

As of his last appearance on August 14, 2020, Norris has worked a total of 5.1 innings and found himself sporting a 3.38 ERA and WHIP of 1.50. His next appearance has not been announced by the Tigers organization as of yet.

If Norris can continue to build and regain the strength lost over the years due to setbacks, Tigers fans can look forward to what comes next for him.

As Daniel Norris would say, stay stoked and just keep living. 

 

Photo courtesy of Icon Sportswire / Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Chelsea Ladd

Creator of Dugout Dish and long suffering baseball fan. When she isn’t yelling about baseball, she’s a multimedia sports reporter for her local newspaper.

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