Thrill of adventure: Norris enjoys wild pursuits

With no health concerns, Tigers lefty trains with ex-Navy Seal, hunts game, surfs and camps

Thrill of adventure: Norris enjoys wild pursuits

DETROIT -- Daniel Norris has become as legendary for his offseason travels as he has for his on-field potential. This offseason, he tried something a little different.

Norris, you might remember, became national news as a Blue Jays prospect two years ago for living in his van during Spring Training. He became a filmmaker last offseason by riding in his van from his hometown of Johnson City, Tenn., to the West Coast with renowned filmmaker Ben Moon, then later surfing off the coast of Nicaragua.

His travels this winter took him neither out of the country nor in his van. But his offseason was not short of adventure, which included training with a former Navy Seal and eating game meat, courtesy of Ian Kinsler.

"We got to work with an ex-Navy Seal on a lot of stuff," Norris said. "For me, being around that kind of guy, seeing his intensity in everything, every part of his life was like … "

Kinsler, who helped organize the trip in late November, interrupted.

"It was pretty special," Kinsler said of the three-day journey, which included former Tigers catcher Bryan Holaday.

The trip, they said, was as much about performance under pressure as about hunting. They had to do endurance exercises or obstacles, then fire at targets from a distance with high-powered rifles. But there was some more normal hunting to it, too.

"It was more heart-rate control, like a stress test, operating guns while you're under stress a little bit," Kinsler said. "He wanted us to experience that, but we also had a chef there whose main technique is cooking outside in fire pits."

"He's like a game chef," Norris said, "so whatever you kill, he immediately takes it, skins it, guts it and throws it on the fire, which was just incredible."

That was just a leadoff for Norris. From there, he went to California and reunited with Moon, spending three weeks surfing and camping along the coast of Ventura.

"We just surfed every day," Norris said, "and it was unbelievable. It was like the best surfing of my life, just being down there, hanging out, meeting all these outdoor legends that I've looked up to for so long. It was awesome. I flew out there and then I camped in his van."

It wasn't entirely fun and surf. Norris also worked out every day in preparation for his throwing program, knowing how important it is for him to come to camp healthy. After a back issue delayed his 2016 season and left him searching for his top form until the stretch run, the 23-year-old realizes simply being able to pitch is the first step toward finding the consistency he craves as a pitcher.

Norris' 11 K's in 11 seconds

In that sense, this offseason was quiet, in a good way. After having bone chips removed from his elbow after the 2014 season and undergoing surgery for thyroid cancer in the fall of '15, Norris had no health concerns going into this offseason.

"It's easy to say that if I'm healthy I think I'll have success," Norris said. "But also, I just have to be consistent, continue to work on the things I've been working on, and I think just being healthy and not having that at the forefront of my mind is going to be very beneficial. If I'm able to try new things on the mound [this spring] and not worry about my back flaring up or my oblique or anything, it'll pay huge dividends for me."

It would also pay off big for the Tigers, who have seen what Norris can do when he settles in. He posted a 3.04 ERA and 55 strikeouts over 56 1/3 innings in 10 starts, none with more than three earned runs, once he took over a rotation spot in early August. The Tigers won six of his final seven starts to vault into Wild Card contention.

Norris' one-run outing

He had a strong September the previous season, too, after his trade from Toronto in the David Price deal. Now he wants a good start.

To that end, Norris plans on trimming his offseason beard -- he hasn't shaved since last season ended -- and heading to Florida soon. Unlike the last couple of years, however, he won't be taking his van.

"The trip last year was pretty heavy on it," Norris said. "It's not bad, just needs some interior work on the engine. She'll be back up and running soon."

Don't worry. He has a fill-in lined up.

"I've got a little surprise that I've been working on, a new little camper," he said. "It should be pretty cool. Me and my dad have been working on it, making it right. ...

"It allows me to do what I do. It just maybe won't draw as much attention."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.