Daniel Norris isn’t your average Major League Baseball (MLB) player. You won’t find the 25 year old driving a fancy car to the Detroit Tigers’ stadium or wearing the latest designer clothes. In fact, there’s a better chance you’ll catch a glimpse of him behind the wheel of his 1978 Volkswagen van, Shaggy, cruising down a narrow backroad en route to an empty beach with a plain t-shirt covering his back and flip-flops on his feet. Despite the rush that comes with pitching in front of 50,000 cheering fans on a regular basis, Norris feels just as comfortable alone with his thoughts, listening to his favorite Jack Johnson song or talking to God.
From an early age, it was all about baseball for Daniel. There’s no denying that the sport was and still is his passion. Growing up in Tennessee, he quickly rose to the top ranks as a high school player, and his hardwork and talent was rewarded when, in 2011, he was chosen 74th overall in the MLB’s amateur draft.
But during those formative years, Daniel was also introduced to nature — he was taught to appreciate the outdoors and respect it on a spiritual level. This was a time when, as a Christian, he came to understand that what surrounded him was much bigger than himself. He was brought up in a household that worked hard and used only what was needed. His father — or his “pops,” as Daniel calls him — owned a mountain bike shop that had been handed down from his father, while Daniel’s mother instilled empathy in him, which he proudly carries to this day.
This type of upbringing led to some unconventional habits for the professional athlete, most of which are more exhibited after the baseball season ends, when he isn’t flying from big city to big city and staying in lavish hotels (though, if you look at his Instagram, you’ll see that he has a beautiful habit of interacting with the less fortunate in these cities, and making them feel heard and appreciated). But when the 162 major league games have all been played, and the locker room is cleaned out, Daniel makes sure to spend at least a couple months living out of his van, searching for waves and cooking his meals in parking lots along the way.
How does a professional athlete — one with a strict workout plan and diet — manage that type of lifestyle? For Daniel, it just seems to work itself out.
“There are so many gyms around; I can usually find one,” he said. “And, if not, yoga, pilates, push-ups, pull-ups, running, swimming — it’s all there if you need it.”
And that means there’s always room for adventures.
Daniel makes it work because he dreams of — even prays for — these moments, these small lapses in his busy schedule when he can drive off, challenge himself, and learn from his surroundings. For him, “adventure is when you have no choice but to leave your comfort zone.” And that is the sentiment that constantly pushes him. During these breaks in his calendar, something usually goes wrong, but it provides a lesson of some sort, which keeps him wanting more.
At some point each offseason, Daniel makes an effort to meet up with Ben Moon, a close friend, photographer, and filmmaker. Their meetings usually entail camping and surfing in remote locations and, just two years ago, it meant driving Shaggy across the country to the cloudy and windswept beaches of the Pacific Northwest (a journey that turned into an incredible short film). But the trip didn’t come without a price. The trek took its toll on the old VW, forcing a few unexpected stops, quick fixes, and tune-ups.
Most recently, though, it’s been Daniel who’s been on the mend following a groin injury that he sustained back in April. The injury led to a surgery, which has put the remainder of his 2018 season in jeopardy. But with his faithful mindset and calming outlook, Daniel knows it’s just another obstacle to overcome, another adventure gone wrong that he must endure and learn from.
It’s safe to assume that when things are healed, there will be plenty more adventures. Even if they’re quick, spur-of-the-moment getaways, Daniel doesn’t need much time to pack before he hits the road.
“Journal, camera, Bible. It depends. I feel like I have a number of things I can’t leave without,” he said. “Then again, there are times I just pack a couple t-shirts and head out.”
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Header image by Ben Moon