Daniel Norris, entering his seventh season as a Major League Baseball player, has achieved his childhood dream.
Long before that, the Detroit Tigers pitcher was a young fan watching his favorite team, the Atlanta Braves, as well as going to Appalachian League games.
The former Science Hill star, selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the second round of the 2011 MLB draft, recalls some of his best experiences as a baseball fan.
Who was your favorite player growing up?
“My favorite player was Chipper Jones. He was always on TV with TBS, Sports South and all that. I just loved the way he played the game. He was a special talent and I loved watching him play. I would come home, turn the Braves games on, seeing him out there with (B.J.) Surhoff off the bench and (manager) Bobby Cox.”
Since you were playing ball in the summer, did you get to go to many major league games?
“I got to go to a few Braves games when I was younger. When I was in high school, I played summer ball (with the East Cobb Yankees) in Atlanta. After our games, we would cruise over and see some Braves games, which was fun. You were always dreaming about it and it was so good to see it in person.”
What was your favorite game as a fan?
“I remember my first time seeing Chipper play in person. He hit a home run to dead center about 450 feet. I will never forget that. As a player, I was able to hit a home run my first at-bat and that still gives me chills. I loved hitting and playing center field in high school. I never imagined I would do that in my first major league at-bat just like the first time I saw Chipper play. I will never forget it.”
You played in high school at what was then called Cardinal Park. Did you go to a lot of the Appalachian League games there?
“I remember when I was a lot younger, my dad would always take me over there. When he owned the bike shop, he would have a bike giveaway and we would watch the game.
“One time we did that and we had to leave early, I don’t remember why. We were walking out of the parking lot at Cardinal Park and we hear the crack of the bat. It was kind of a weak crack and I turn around and see the ball flying out of the stadium as a foul ball. Just my instincts, I put my hands up. I couldn’t be more than 9, 10 years old. I put my hand up and caught the ball barehanded. My dad just looked at me. I think that’s when he realized I was good at baseball.”
Did you go to the other local teams’ home games?
“I remember going to quite a few games in Elizabethton and some in Kingsport. We would always try to go when a major leaguer was rehabbing. I distinctly remember with my best friend, Will Carter, going to about every game when Rick Ankiel was playing with the Johnson City Cardinals. We got to meet him and he signed the baseballs for us.
“Will’s family was a host family for one of the Cardinals players and I always thought that was really cool. There are a lot of great memories with the Appy League.”
When you were with the Bluefield Blue Jays, how disappointed were you to not get to pitch at Cardinal Park?
“I was scheduled to pitch the day before or the day after the series at Cardinal Park. My manager, Dennis Holmberg, he came up to me on the bus when we were headed there. He’s like, ‘If I get another call from the Johnson City Cardinals asking if you’re going to pitch, I’m going to lose my mind.’
“A lot of people from Johnson City were calling wanting him to switch the schedule, but he was fed up with it. I admit I was a little bummed I didn’t get to pitch there.”