They saved the best for last this year at PG National. After more than 50 hours spent at Tropicana Field over four days, the scouts that hung around for the final day must have been excited to see Science Hill High (Johnson City, Tenn.) lefthander Daniel Norris. Norris pitched the third and fourth inning of the final game and provided a much-needed boost to a crowd running on fumes by that point. Norris sat 92-94 mph with his fastball and mixed in a dirty 2-7 curveball in the 73-75 range and a couple 83 mph changeups.
I caught up with Norris after the game to talk about his experience at the event, his summer plans and what major league pitcher he looks up to. . .
You looked really good out there today. How did you feel?
"You know, I felt really good. I got the nerves out and it was just fun. There were a bunch of people here and it's just a nice place to play. I've never been in this kind of environment before, so it's kind of fun and just being in a major league ballpark is a great experience and I appreciate the opportunity. I was glad to be able to come down here."
Was this your first time pitching in a big league park?
"Yeah, it is. It was a lot of fun. I mean, the mound was flawless. I've never had anything like it. It's always been a part of the game. The mound can determine the pitches you throw and it just helps a lot when it's anything you can dream of."
From where I was sitting, everything looked good, but tell me how your pitches were working for you today.
"My fastball was good. I was hitting my spots well and I had decent velocity. My changeup was working well, it was running from righties and I was keeping it down, which is the main thing with the changeup. And then my curveball felt good, it was spiking a little bit. When you have all three working, no matter who you are, that's going to help you a lot. So, I was glad to have those working and my catcher did a good job calling pitches. I never had to call him off."
Tell me about the rest of your summer. You're living in Atlanta this summer, playing with the East Cobb Yankees, right? What has that been like?
"Yeah, I did it last summer and the summer before I went down for a week and did it. It's a really great opportunity. We have a lot of really good players on our team, so it's a good chance to be seen. Plus, the coaches have a lot of input and really help with your game, so that helps a lot. I give all the credit to them—well, I give all the credit to the Lord, of course—but with them, they give me the mechanical work and the input you get from major league guys. We have 16 players in the major leagues now that played for the East Cobb Yankees and they come back and will help you with your swing or with your mechanics, so you can really take that in and put it to use."
Do you think going through that last summer and doing that prepared you for this summer and what lies ahead?
"Oh, absolutely. It was tough being five and a half hours from home. I mean, I'm away from all my friends and stuff, but going into this summer I knew what to expect and I was ready for it. I love baseball—it's my life. And I'm chasing the dream right now and I'll do anything to achieve it. That's the main thing. I play the game because I love it and I'm going to go out there and play as hard as I can every day because of my love and passion for it."
You play quarterback too, right?
"I did, but I'm not going to play it this year because I tweaked my ankle pretty good last year, so I think that's kind of God's way of telling me this is maybe not the route to take. It was a reality check and I realized that and took it to heart and decided not to play. So, it helped me get out and play some fall ball and it's going to be a lot of fun."
So baseball is definitely your No. 1?
"Absolutely, and it always has been, it's always been my favorite. But growing up, I've always been a three-sport athlete and they're all kind of cross-trainers for each other. In football—and I don't do weights or anything—but just playing the game, you're going to get stronger and you're going to get tougher and you can take that mentality to the mound and go right after batters. And then with basketball, I was a shooting guard, so I was finesse and smooth and you can take that to the mound, too. But now that I'm getting older and I've realized what path I want to take, then I'm going to narrow it down and use what I've learned and just do it to the best of my ability."
Absolutely, and those are great analogies. What kind of goals do you have for yourself going forward and what are you working to improve?
"I definitely want to improve my mechanics. I just want to fine tune those and be able to repeat my delivery every time—and no walks. Walking batters as a pitcher is one thing, but I just want to be able to control everything. As far as lifelong goals, I've always wanted to be a major league baseball player and I'm going to work as hard as I can. I'm not going to give up and that's what I'm going to achieve. That's what I strive for every day and if that's God's plan, then that will happen. But, if not, then I'm still going to work as hard as I can to reach what I want to do. That's my main goal in life, ever since I was a little kid. I hope that's in my future, but if not I'll still be in baseball."
You mentioned that you don't lift weights, but tell me about your workout routine between starts.
"Yeah, I've never lifted a weight in my life, to be honest. I used to do a lot of situps for my core and I would do pushups and stuff, but now that I've gotten older I just run a lot. Running and riding bikes, that helps with your legs. In my opinion, legs are over 50 percent of a pitcher because you use that so much."
Yeah, just look at Roger Clemens' thighs!
"Exactly. If you learn how to use your legs, you're going to be fine because it's not all arm. Because if you throw all arm, you're going to have arm troubles later on. I've realized that talking to some pitching coaches and stuff and I've worked to work on my legs by running a lot and riding my bike and getting stronger and then using my legs the right way when I throw to throw with better velocity and stuff."
How much do you run?
"Twenty to 25 minutes after every start. And then swimming also helps. And I can ride my bike all day, I love that. I'm an outdoorsy guy. I like to hike and stuff because that's a good workout in itself."
What about a throwing program between starts?
"Usually we'll throw a bullpen the day after. Not the next day, but the day after. Then I'll get some long toss in and keep my arm in shape. And then I'll play the outfield and stuff to keep my arm loose."
With long toss, do you go 120 feet, or do you like to air it out?
"Normal is 150 (feet), but if it's in the offseason we'll go 300 or 350 feet. Just trying to get out there and keep your velocity for the next year and if you keep doing it and do it the right way, it will help."
Finally, did you grow up rooting for a particular team and are there any pitchers that you really look up to?
"I've always been a Braves fan. Chipper Jones is my favorite player, but if I had to pick a pitcher, I really like to watch Clayton Kershaw pitch for the Dodgers. He's a lefthanded pitcher that throws in the mid-90s, so I feel like I can relate to him. But I just love watching him pitch because he goes out there and competes every time. And I've watched videos and interviews and he seems like a real classy guy, and I'm impressed with that and I look up to him a lot. He seems like a really great guy and he's a great pitcher."
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