This is where Norris has chosen to live while he tries to win a job in the Blue Jays’ rotation: in a broken-down van parked under the blue fluorescent lights of a Wal-Mart in the Florida suburbs. There, every morning, is one of baseball’s top-ranked prospects, doing pull-ups and resistance exercises on abandoned grocery carts. There he is each evening, making French press coffee and organic stir-fry on his portable stove. There he is at night, wearing a spelunking headlamp to go with his unkempt beard, writing in his “thought journal” or rereading Kerouac.
He has been here at Wal-Mart for long enough that some store employees have given him a nickname — “Van Man” — and begun to question where he’s from and what he might be doing. A few have felt so bad for him that they’ve approached the van with prayers and crumpled bills, assuming he must be homeless. They wonder: Is he a runaway teen? A destitute surfer? A new-age wanderer lost on some spiritual quest?
The truth is even stranger: The Van Man has a consistent 92-mile-an-hour fastball, a $2 million signing bonus, a deal with Nike and a growing fan club, yet he has decided the best way to prepare for the grind of a 162-game season is to live here, in the back of a 1978 Westfalia camper he purchased for $10,000. The van is his escape from the pressures of the major leagues, his way of dropping off the grid before a season in which his every movement will be measured, catalogued and analyzed.