Tim Norris: No Looking Back

September 03, 1995|By KEN ROSENTHAL

They signed with the Orioles the same day, shared the same Baltimore roots, drove to rookie ball in the same car.

Wednesday night, Cal Ripken is scheduled to break Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record at Camden Yards. Tim Norris will report for his usual shift at a Baltimore printing company, 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

L "Before the game's over, I'll be heading for work," he said.

Funny, they seemed headed for the same place as teen-agers in Bluefield, W. Va., nearly two decades ago. But Norris, hampered by tendinitis in his pitching elbow, never advanced past Double-A.

That's baseball -- some players make it, some don't. But Norris and Ripken were so similar at the start of their careers, it only reinforces the enormity of what Ripken is about to accomplish.

Ripken was a second-round draft pick out of Aberdeen High in 1978, Norris was a fourth-round selection out of Archbishop Curley. Both were pitchers, though Ripken was destined to become an infielder. Both were signed by the late Dick Bowie.

It was a heady moment for the Orioles. The last time they had drafted an area prospect as high was in 1967, when they took Greg Arnold in the third round. The team introduced Norris and Ripken together at Memorial Stadium. They were the local boys, making good.

At Bluefield, they shared a second-floor bedroom in a house owned by an aging widow, Ilee Short. Mike Boddicker and Larry Sheets were the other renters. Each paid $25 a week for a room, two meals a day and laundry. They were earning $500 per month at the time.

Ripken, Boddicker, Sheets, Norris.

"Everyone's a millionaire but me," Norris says.

He says this without a trace of bitterness. Indeed, he's sitting in the living room of his Swan Point home, smiling. His son, Brooks, 11, is with him. They've placed two scrapbooks on a table. Nothing but memories. Nothing but good times.

"I'm pretty easygoing," Norris says. "I don't let a whole lot get to me. I'll admit, when I go to the stadium, the thoughts run through your mind -- 'What if? I should be out there.' That's the only time I have those thoughts. I had a lot of opportunities guys wish they had."

Brooks produces a ball autographed by the 1978 Bluefield team, a team that included six future Orioles -- Ripken, Boddicker and Sheets; Victor Rodriguez, Don Welchel and John Shelby. Norris doesn't know how much it might be worth. Nor does he care.

It's the camaraderie he treasures. How many people can boast that Cal Ripken was in their wedding? Norris' wife, Chris, says that her niece, Gia, 10, brings a wedding album to school. It contains a photograph of her mother, Lori, walking down the aisle with Cal.

That was in January 1980, a year and a half after Norris and Ripken began their professional careers. Norris still recalls meeting Ripken in the Archbishop Curley parking lot and setting out for Bluefield in Norris' beige Monte Carlo.

The ride wasn't exactly memorable.

"He slept," Norris says. "And snored."

But they quickly grew close in Bluefield. Norris was 18 then, Ripken 17. Both grew up Orioles fans. In the off-seasons that followed, they even went to Colts games together.

"They were both from Baltimore -- they had a lot in common, a lot to talk about," recalls Boddicker, who was 20 then, out of the University of Iowa.

They also shared a passion for the game -- and for competition.

"We were the first to the field, and the last to leave," Norris recalls. "Then we'd get home and wrestle for two hours. Then he'd want to play putt-putt, cards, backgammon. We were both competitive. We wanted to beat each other."

Who was the better wrestler?

"I never beat him," Norris laments. "He had more moves than Gorilla Monsoon. He was strong as an ox. And, at that point, he had never lifted a weight in his life."

At that point, Ripken weighed 175 pounds -- 45 pounds below his current weight. He was so skinny, Boddicker jokes, "he was like Billy" -- Ripken's 180-pound brother -- "without weight."

Boddicker spent only a month at Bluefield before moving to Double-A Charlotte, but as Norris remembers, he constantly would needle Ripken, claiming he wasn't as good as teammate Bob Bonner.

As The Sun reported on July 31, 1978: "Through the first 15 games of the Bluefield season, Ripken committed so many errors that many people were wondering aloud how he had ever been picked so high in the draft."

Norris recalls receiving a letter from Boddicker at Charlotte that said, "Tell Cal there's still hope. Bonner hurt his knee." Even today, Boddicker won't let up. "[Bonner] is probably the best shortstop I ever played with," Boddicker claims. "I'm not kidding."

Whatever, Ripken filled out, started to hit and advanced rapidly through the Orioles' system, from Miami to Charlotte to Rochester.

Norris, on the other hand, went 5-6 with a 6.19 ERA at Bluefield, and eventually spent three seasons at Double-A Charlotte, unable to overcome his tendinitis.

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