Not in Kansas anymore: Norris makes jump for A's
Rookie ascends from small-town roots to earn spot behind plate for Oakland
OAKLAND -- Derek Norris can't stay still.
Well, "unless college football is on, and then I'll sit on the couch all day," he said, smiling.
Good thing, then, that Norris chose the profession -- particularly, the position -- that he did. As a catcher, the A's rookie sees plenty action over the course of a typical work day.
"I have severe attention-deficit disorder, so that cures that," a laughing Norris said. "I'm involved in every play and just being able to be part of every pitch and have to know what's going on, that's always been me. I like to be in on everything. I like to be involved in a lot, stay busy."
He always has, even though there wasn't a baseball diamond within a 10-mile radius of his home in Goddard, Kan., which has a population on the south side of 5,000.
Nevertheless, it was there where Norris was introduced to baseball, which, at times, merely meant hitting rocks with a bat. Sometimes his brother, now in medical school, would join him.
"Ever since I was little, I'd go out and hit rocks since the streets around us were all dirt and gravel, living out in the country," he said. "I just went out there with a bat and hit rocks until I was called back in. I just kind of always loved to hit and, ever since, I still do."
Hitting has led the 23-year-old to his current home in Oakland, where he was brought aboard on June 21 to share time behind the plate with former incumbent Kurt Suzuki.
Norris, quickly considered the heir apparent to Suzuki after being acquired by the A's alongside Tommy Milone and Minor League pitchers Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole in the deal that sent Gio Gonzalez to Washington last offseason, was batting .273 with eight home runs and 36 RBIs in his first year at the Triple-A level. Suzuki, meanwhile, was hitting .215 with zero home runs and 16 RBIs through 60 games.
"The catcher of the present and the guy that's potentially your catcher of the future have to co-exist together," manager Bob Melvin said at the time. "It's different, but we feel like as an organization we're best suited doing it this way at this point."
As it turned out, Norris started 20 of the club's next 32 games, with the A's going 15-5 in those games, before he was sent back down when Oakland brought in veteran catcher George Kottaras. Yet Norris was quickly beckoned again when Suzuki was traded to the Nationals, this time to stay and fulfill everyday duties.
"He's a young kid, but we think he has a chance to get better, and as he's shown when up here, we think he's perfectly capable of handling the staff, and that the team is capable of performing well with him," general manager Billy Beane said. "This is a good time for him to take over and get better, and he should get better over the course of the next couple of years."
Norris is fulfilling a dream that first entered his mind during his senior year at Goddard High School in 2007, when he was named the Kansas Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year, while also earning a spot on the Louisville Slugger All-America team.
Coincidentally, or maybe not, that's when he began catching, following years of playing third base.
"Obviously you always dream of being a Major League baseball player, but it wasn't always a reality because of where I was from," he said.
Norris signed a letter of intent to play baseball at Wichita State before the Nationals altered those plans, selecting him in the fourth round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft.
Immediately considered a top catching prospect in Washington's organization, Norris watched his stock drop in 2010-11 because of injuries. At the time of the trade, he was coming off his worst season, hitting .210 with 20 home runs and 46 RBIs in 104 games in Double-A.
Oh, how things can change over the course of a year.
"I'm just enjoying my time here, not taking anything for granted," he said.