Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Daniel Norris opts for life on four wheels

Norris picked up surfing during a trip to Nicaragua, and tries to surf despite unfavorable waves off the coast of Florida, where he travels for his team’s spring training. Photo courtesy of Norris

Peek into the garage of any professional baseball player and you’re likely to see a shiny sports car with a hefty price tag.

But not Daniel Norris’, as the 21-year-old Toronto Blue Jays pitching prospect from Johnson City, Tennessee, doesn’t even have a garage. In fact, his house is void of many of the luxuries that come with a lucrative pro sports career and a $2 million signing bonus.
That’s because Norris lives in a van.
“To keep this simple, they think I’m pretty weird,” laughs Norris, who says the people running the Blue Jays organization were wary at first of his unorthodox living situation. “They find it rather interesting.”
But the more you know about Norris, the more apparent it becomes that it’s the alternative—four walls lined with electronics and shiny appliances—that would be “weird.”

Norris, who made his major-league debut last September and is competing for a starting job this spring, grew up roaming the racks of tires and helmets at his father’s mountain bike shop in Tennessee, a local haven for outdoorsmen that had been in the family for two generations. On the weekends, his family rode bikes and went camping; Norris picked up rock climbing from his sister. Even during the first two offseasons of his pro baseball career (Norris was drafted from high school in the second round in 2011), he worked part-time at a local outdoor retailer, where he was introduced to even more new ways to get outdoors, like kayaking and backpacking.

“I knew after I signed [with the Blue Jays] that I was going to get a Volkswagen van,” Norris says. “It was my dream car. ‘Shaggy’ wasn’t even for sale when I got her. My dad just knew a guy who knew a guy through the bike shop.”

After a few visits to “Shaggy,” a mustard-yellow 1978 Volkswagen Westfalia microbus, the original owner was convinced to part with it and transferred the title into Norris’ name. Norris outfitted the van with solar panels and a bed and hit the road to Dunedin, Florida, for his team’s spring training.

Besides daily team practice and three-a-day workout sessions at the gym, Norris says his van-dwelling lifestyle affords him even more opportunities to cross-train—he even picked up surfing during a recent trip to Nicaragua, rounding out the whole surfer-dude-van-life vibe.

“Surfing is great for your shoulders and core,” Norris laughs. “Hiking is a good lower body workout, and rock climbing … well, if you’ve ever rock climbed, good luck getting out of bed the next day!”
Norris says that while the Blue Jays organization may not quite understand his lifestyle, his teammates have been supportive, even taking him up on offers to go hiking.

“Do they ‘get it’? Maybe not, but I don’t think any of them think too differently about me,” he says. “I’ve actually had a chance to introduce a few guys to the outdoors in recent years. Whether it’s the water or the trails, all the feedback was, ‘When can we go again?’”

Besides the obvious freedoms that come with living in a van, Norris says that his choice was part of a conscious decision not the let the fame or money of his professional baseball career change his values.

“I think the simplicity of it all was the most appealing,” he explains. “I grew up with a simple lifestyle, and I knew going into professional baseball that would be tested. In my mind there’s no need for luxury, or at least society’s sense of the word.”

“I consider my life luxurious—I live on a beach with an ocean-front view, hearty meals and hot French-pressed coffee at my disposal. That’s fancy, right?”

Editor’s Note: Thanks to Baseball America for help in reporting this story. For more information on Norris, head on over to their site.