Just going by the pitchers’ backstories and reputations, it wouldn’t seem that Roy Halladay and Daniel Norris had much in common. Or anything at all.
Halladay, who died in a plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico Tuesday, was reserved, even remote. We knew all about him as a pitcher, almost certainly the best in baseball for a decade. We knew little about him as a man as he was the most private of stars who have come through Toronto’s clubhouse over the years. He was also arguably the best player to ever wear a Blue Jays’ uniform.
Norris’s time in Toronto was brief, a virtual cameo, just 10 games through two seasons before being shipped to Detroit in the trade that brought David Price to town. In that brief time with Toronto, Norris made a big impression off the field. He was the philosophical searcher, the kid who lived in his Volkswagen van, the surfer from land-locked Tennessee. A left-hander with immense promise. He is 24 now and still searching.
If you were looking for common threads between Halladay and Norris you could point to their faith. Just as Halladay was, Norris is devoutly religious and lives by the word of the Bible. Still, the two were never in the same clubhouse and in fact never met in person.
Yet on Tuesday, when Halladay’s light aircraft went down, Norris grieved. On Twitter, he posted:
Halladay’s performances on the field inspired Norris, just as they did other pitchers of his generation.
“You could see the desire every time he pitched,” Norris said. “When I was with the Jays he was the benchmark of hard work.”
Norris’s tribute to Halladay on Twitter was ground in his personal experience. And while it might have been brief, to Norris it was deeply meaningful.
In his time in Detroit, Norris has struggled to stay healthy and find the form that rocketed him through the Jays’ system from A-ball to the big club in 2014. The Tigers’ pitching coach last season was Rich Dubee, who had coached Halladay with the Phillies. In fact, Halladay had credited Dubee with teaching him a change-up that made him an even more dominant pitcher in Philadelphia.
Says Norris: “I was not pitching well so [Dubee] had him call me. We talked for a couple hours. It changed my outlook. I don’t think I ever lacked intensity or preparation. He taught me how to control it. (Not that I’ve figured it out yet) but he took me through his process of when things went south. For those two hours, he was my mentor. I’m still figuring things out—I’m not there yet—but talking to Roy changed my career.”
Halladay had worked with Philadelphia pitchers in spring training last year—he made his home in Clearwater, the Phillies’ spring home. He was coaching his sons’ teams in Little League and high school and talked about some greater involvement in coaching or working in the front office down the line.
“That’s something we’re still talking about,” Halladay told Ryan Lawrence of the Philly Voice. “There are all kinds of options. I don’t ever try to get too far ahead of myself. I’m going to enjoy this first week here, being a guest coach, and see where things go.”
Other pitchers and players, past, present and future, will come forward with stories of Halladay’s support and guidance. Still, on Tuesday, less than an hour after being told of the death of his “two-hour mentor,” Daniel Norris’s sense of loss ran deep. What he had hoped to be a long-lasting friendship and a conversation that would span his career was cut short after a single phone call and an awful moment.
“That’s what I’m having trouble with,” Norris said. “After talking we planned on staying in touch this next season. Selfishly, I was really looking forward to him helping me take the next step. Right now all I can think about his family and praying for them.”