To Doug Norman, Fort Mill is home. But for a few days he was quite content living in Omaha, Neb., the home of the College World Series.
Norman, a Fort Mill Middle School product whose family lives in Huntington Farms near Doby Bridge Park, was on college baseball’s biggest stage and loving every second of it.
“It’s been awesome and unbelievable,” said Norman, a 6-foot-3 freshman right-handed pitcher on Louisiana State University’s No. 1 ranked baseball team.
“Omaha is nuts. Aside from the baseball, people out here live for the World Series,” he said before LSU lost 8-4 to TCU Thursday in an elimination game.
“They love us, there are thousands of kids out here wanting to talk to us and get our autographs. It’s a really cool environment. When it comes to actually playing, that environment speaks for itself. There’s 25,000 people out here and the other night when I got that inning against TCU, it was really cool to pitch as a freshman in the College World Series.”
Norman pitched the eighth inning of LSU’s 10-3 opening round loss to TCU. Norman said his team, which features a potent lineup where eight of the nine regulars got drafted in last week’s MLB Draft, felt ready to go.
“This team is so good and the chemistry on this team is so good from every single player on our roster,” he said.
“We’ve been the best team in the country for almost the whole year and to be out here in Omaha and still alive is awesome,” Norman said prior to the elimination game.
And it was always Norman’s dream.
After graduating from Fort Mill Middle, Norman’s mom, Fiona, knew where she wanted her son to play high school baseball. Fiona is a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teacher, and as such could have enrolled him in any school in the district.
She chose Ardrey Kell and coach Hal Bagwell, who has guided a number of next-level talents including former Georgia Bulldog and current Atlanta Brave Alex Wood.
Norman was set to follow in Wood’s footsteps and originally committed to Georgia. A coaching change swayed his decision, and North Carolina, South Carolina, Clemson and N.C. State were among the many courting his service. But Norman said LSU was the place he said he always wanted to go and he signed before his senior season.
With his commitment secured, Norman put together a dazzling final year at Ardrey Kell, going 9-1 with a save, a microscopic 0.78 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 63 innings.
He was named to the 2014 Louisville Slugger and Rawlings first team All-American, and got played in some of the prestigious tournaments across the country.
Bagwell said Norman could’ve been drafted in the early rounds out of high school last year, but made it clear to scouts his heart was in Baton Rouge.
"We've has a lot of talent come through here, and I can compare him to all those guys that came through," Bagwell told a Louisiana newspaper. "In terms of projectability, Doug has the highest ceiling any player we've ever had."
And, living his dream on baseball’s biggest stage, Norman has shown his potential.
He’s 5-1 on the year with a 2.03 ERA in 20 appearances which include three starts. He’s struck out 23 batters in 34.1 innings and is off to a great start to a career that could one day lead him to pro ball.
To put together a solid freshman campaign, Norman said he learned early on the tricks he picked up in high school need some refining in the Southeastern Conference.
“I found out very quickly the SEC is light years away from most of the competition I’ve faced,” he said. “I’ve pitched some big games against the good teams from East Cobb (Ga.), Jupiter (Fla.) and those teams for the South Charlotte Panthers (travel team). Those teams are loaded with guys going to schools like this.
“But in the SEC if you miss your spot they all will take advantage of it. In high school you can get away with it, but you can’t here. You can’t leave anything out over the middle or they’ll make you pay.”
But Norman has held his own thanks to his natural talent and a rock solid support system. In Omaha he had the support of his teammates. In Baton Rouge it’s Robert O’Connell, Norman’s grandfather, who is LSU’s longest-tenured professor having taught physics at the school for 51 years.
“I don’t have it as bad as some kids because my grandparents are here and I can go get a nice meal and see my family, but there’s nothing like mom, dad and my sister,” Norman said. “I think the thing I miss most is home itself.
“When I first moved to Fort Mill in fifth grade, it was still a small town. There were woods and trees everywhere, but it’s grown a lot. The house I like in is nice and secluded and sometimes it’s just nice to hang around the house and have no responsibilities.”
But Norman’s only focus now is on Omaha and bringing home the College World Series title. He said with so much talent moving on who knows what next year will bring. But since the Tigers have made 17 World Series appearances since 1986 and won seven titles in that span, chances are they’ll be back.
Wherever they go, Norman will be in the middle of it.