Detroit Tigers: Once-In-A-Lifetime Home Runs

Daniel Norris of the Detroit Tigers rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the Chicago Cubs on August 19, 2015. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
Daniel Norris of the Detroit Tigers rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the Chicago Cubs on August 19, 2015. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images) /
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Daniel Norris

This one comes with a caveat. Daniel Norris, whom Detroit traded away last summer, is currently a free agent. Only time will tell if he ever gets a chance to hit a second big-league home run, but for now, it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility.

Norris was still in the midst of his first month as a Tigers pitcher on August 19, 2015, when he drew the starting assignment against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Both teams were decked out in 1945-style uniforms to honor their predecessors that met in the World Series 70 years earlier. That nostalgic aspect only added to the festive vibe that was in the air whenever the team from the Motor City arrived in the Windy City’s north side for inter-league action.

Playing in a National League ballpark meant Norris would bat ninth in the Tigers’ lineup. Although he had a grand total of zero professional plate appearances, Norris was ready. The day before the game, the southpaw pitcher hit left-handed during batting practice. He amazed onlookers by hitting six BP home runs. One was a line drive down the right-field line that crashed into Wrigley Field’s brand-new video board and broke a couple panels. Detroit manager Brad Ausmus commented,

"“For a guy who hasn’t hit since high school, he’s got a pretty good swing. I just don’t know if that’s going to translate against major league pitchers.”"

The major league pitcher that Norris would step in against was 10th-year veteran Jon Lester. Norris got his first crack against the Chicago lefty in the bottom of the second. Nick Castellanos had given the Tigers a 1-0 lead when he led off the inning with a solo home run. Norris came up with a man on first and two outs. The count was even at a ball and a strike when Lester threw a 94-mph fastball that didn’t make it to catcher David Ross’ mitt.

Norris swung, connected, and sent the pitch soaring over the ivy-covered wall in center field. Statcast measured it at 419 feet. Upon making contact, he hustled toward first base before going into a home run trot.

Just like that, Norris became the first American League pitcher to homer at Wrigley in a regular season game, the first Detroit Tigers pitcher to homer since Jason Johnson did it in 2005, and the first Tiger to homer in his first MLB at-bat since Reggie Sanders in 1974.

Commenting on his achievement, Norris told Fox Sports Detroit’s John Keating that it felt “like a dream” and was “pretty cool”, adding that he was on “cloud nine” when he realized what he’d done. Describing the at-bat, Norris said,

"“The first fastball, he threw me for a strike. I looked back at Ross and said, ‘Man, I thought that was in the dirt’…I didn’t think I was seeing it well, then sure enough, (he) gave me another one and I put a good swing on it.”"

Making the moment even more special was the fact that he’d hit the home run off Lester, whom Norris identified as one of his favorite pitchers. Lester was a lymphoma survivor earlier in his career, and Norris would go on to win his own fight with thyroid cancer.

Unfortunately, Norris’ mood after the Detroit’s 15-8 victory wasn’t as jovial as one would expect. In the fifth inning, an oblique strain knocked him out of the game and out of action for about a month.