Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Hard-throwing righty Bud Norris eyes his opponent in the batter’s box, grips a fastball and grooves it across the plate for strike three.
If it sounds familiar, it should. For the past decade, the Novato native has been climbing the ladder to baseball stardom – and now he’s capitalizing on his chance to give back.
So when Norris took the imaginary mound last week against members of the Boys & Girls Club of San Francisco, his competitive nature kicked in, even if it was a friendly game of Whiffle ball.
Playing the role of celebrity host, Norris visited the Willie Mays Clubhouse at Hunters Point – one of the club’s nine locations throughout the city – on Jan. 23 to lead middle school students in a baseball clinic that focused not only on honing specific skills, but also on maintaining a positive outlook on life.
As he walked down the steps into the clubhouse courtyard, Norris was promptly greeted by smiles and open-mouthed gazes of awe. Some children immediately began chatting him up, inquiring about baseball and his flashy Nikes; others watched intently from a distance, curious about the ballplayer before them.
Boys and girls ages 7-14 were then corralled into the gym, where the 28-year-old starting pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles was formally introduced. Addressing about 50 kids and a handful of club employees and police officers, Norris stressed the importance of setting goals and staying motivated.
“Getting where I am today took a lot of hard work,” he said. “Every day when the sun comes out, you have to find something that pushes you. Strive for more and work hard.”
And he certainly practices what he preaches.
Born David Stefan Norris, the hometown hero is a prime example of a man who’s succeeded because of work ethic and determination. Dating back to his days on the mound at San Marin High School, Norris is no stranger to accolades. He’s been hyped by baseball scouts and coaches at nearly every level of the sport, but Norris credits local fans as his biggest support system.
“I wouldn’t be the man or the player I am today without the support of Novato,” he said. “I’m humbled by my experiences and honored to come back home.”
Norris was born at Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae and spent his entire childhood in Novato. At age 10, he began delivering newspapers for the Novato Advance, though he said he took over the route for his sister and was likely too young to be working.
“It was my first job and it put some money in my pocket,” Norris said. “I remember folding papers on my front porch. That experience really taught me the value of a dollar.”
And now that life lesson is more relevant than ever, as the newest member of the starting rotation for the Baltimore Orioles recently inked a one-year deal with the club for $5.3 million.
But neither the money nor the fame has gone to Norris’ head.
His ability to engage kids without hesitation is uncanny. He talks to them like adults. He treats them like equals. In a single sentence, he’s able to crack a joke and simultaneously promote the idea of respecting one’s elders – a fact that is apparently well known by the SF Boys and Girls Club.
“In his career, [Norris] has identified goals and achieved those goals,” said Len Smolburd, director of services at the Boys and Girls Club of San Francisco. ”He’s a positive role model to bring in and expose to our youth.”
Norris said he relishes the opportunity to meet Bay Area kids, even if they don’t recognize him on the spot.
“Little league was some of my best years,” he said. “To come back and see these kids and brighten their day means a lot to me.”
When he was in grade school, Norris said he was an avid San Francisco Giants fan and looked up to players like Jason Schmidt and fan-favorite announcers Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper. But now the tables have turned, and he has become the one to idolize.
Norris spent much of the afternoon walking from station to station, where club members worked on pitching, hitting and fielding in small groups. He’d show a young boy how to properly grip a fastball, then float over to the infield and help a young girl master the art of fielding a ground ball.
He even threw a few rounds of soft toss to a group of kids who appeared to be thrilled with the idea of taking cuts against a major leaguer.
Norris seems to bring out the best in all who surround him – and not just the kids.
As Norris drifted around the baseball diamond, officers with the San Francisco Police Department who are often present at the club, picked up gloves and began shagging fly balls with the children. They exchanged high-fives and joked about running around with 40-plus pounds of police gear.
All the while, Dave and Suzi Norris, Bud’s parents, watched from a distance.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to watch him out there,” Suzi Norris said. “I’m not only proud of him as a player, but of the man that he’s become. You can really tell he’s having a great time out there.”
Norris also brought a bundle of free goodies for the kids, including Orioles caps, team pennants, baseball cards and enough food and drink to last the afternoon. He finished the afternoon of festivities by taking pictures and signing autographs for every last person at the clinic.
In the coming weeks, Norris will leave the Bay Area – where he’s spent a majority of his off-season – and report to spring training with the rest of the pitchers and catchers on the Orioles. He said he’s excited for a full season with the team and will look to contribute immediately.
“[My goal] is to try to get to 200 innings and stay on the field as long as I can,” he said. “I just want to try to help the team as much as possible.”
In years past, as a member of the Houston Astros, Norris has had an opportunity to return home on a fairly regular basis and face the team he once adored. This year, however, the Orioles are not scheduled to play in San Francisco at all.
Instead, he will return to the Bay Area to face the Oakland Athletics in a three-game series starting July 18. Norris said he always enjoys playing in front of the people who’ve led him along the way.
“It’s always exhilarating to see fans and friends in the stands cheering me on,” Norris said. “The local support has been outstanding.”
Contact Gregory Andersen at email@example.com.