Behind every great man stands a great woman.
Or so that old saying from the 1940s goes.
Since Wayne Norton (Port Moody, BC) was diagnosed with ALS in June, his loving wife Trudy has stood beside him.
Wayne is a Canadian national baseball treasure, known from coast to coast and is especially treasured by his wife Trudy.
After playing at Whitworth College in Spokane, he was signed by the New York Yankees and played 11 years in the minors.
That was only the start of his baseball career as he was technical director of Baseball BC in the early 1970s and the 1980s, oversaw the development of training manuals, managed Team Canada at the 1975 Pan Am Games, came up with the idea of the junior national team and in 1986 was one of the founders of the National Baseball Institute, which kept Canadian talent at home.
Then he began scouting for the Montreal Expos, Baltimore Orioles, and since 2000, for the Seattle Mariners, winning Canadian Baseball Network Scout of the Year (1998 and 2013) and Mariners’ International Scout of the Year honors in 2007.
With the Mariners he has signed the likes of first-round draft pick Phillippe Aumont (Gatineau, Que.), as well as big leaguers Bobby Madritsch, George Sherrill, Mike Saunders (Victoria, BC), Alex Liddi, and Greg Halman. One year when Baseball America listed the M’s top 10 prospects Norton had three players on the list: Liddi, Saunders and Halman. Norton spotted both Madritsch and Sherrill pitching independent ball for the Winnipeg Goldeyes.
Among the minor leaguers signed were Tyson Gillies (Vancouver, BC), Daniel Thieben, Tom De Blok, Jeroen de Haas, Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, BC), Scott Ronnenbergh, Dylan Unsworth and Kalian Sams.
And come June, Norton will be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys with the likes of Pat Hentgen, Dennis Martinez, Howard Starkman, Tony Kubek and William Shuttleworth.
But until then ... he scouts ... with help from Trudy.
We asked if we could write a few lines about Wayne and Trudy’s weekend outing to a University of British Columbia Thunderbirds doubleheader.
Requests are not fielded lightly by the Hall of Fame wife -- Trudy filed a story ...
If only all story ideas came together so quickly.
By Trudy Norton
Needless to say, I have watched a lot of ball games since my late teens when Wayne and I were dating, through our 53 years of marriage.
Games then meant hits, runs, outs, plays - the big picture. Now that I am helping Wayne with his scouting, the focus is on individual pitches, the range of players at various positions, the catchers’ hands and feet: I have to concentrate!
Concentrating was never a strong point when sitting with family or friends at the park. I remember a team mate of Wayne’s, who was injured, sitting behind me in the stands during the 1960s when Wayne was playing for double-A Birmingham in a game against Asheville.
The injured player tapped me on the shoulder, interrupting a chat with another wife, to say that Wayne had just hit two home runs in the same inning -- one of which was a grand slam -- and that probably I would like to know.
Wayne is a respected, successful scout. The ALS does not affect that.
The Seattle Mariners have been very, very supportive, adjusting his contract to reflect his current abilities. European coverage is not possible at this point, but as the season gets underway we have been to an inter-squad game, an indoor practice and a double header.
We are planning a trip to Kamloops for a high school tournament in April. His eye for talent is as sharp as ever ... My job is to help with mobility issues and assist him physically with recording stats, timing runners and clocking pitchers.
I am learning about the “tools” though - those objective, easily observed aspects of evaluating players: arm strength and velocity, fielding abilities, bat potential and speed.
Recognizing the more subtle strengths or weaknesses around coachability, competitiveness, aptitude, signability - that is Wayne’s expertise. As he says, it is easy to scout a first rounder. Those players stand out.
Instinct and experience are essential in identifying other prospective professional players.
It never fails to amaze me how anyone/everyone involved in baseball can talk past games, players, plays, pitches and events. Put two or more old buddies together and you want to turn on a recorder.
At the double header at UBC, there were five or six scouts plus ex-players and friends sharing conversations between innings. How they remember a lefty from 1966 is beyond me! All those years of on-field and off-field memories could entertain a rapt listener for days.
I have to laugh at the fact that, at 73, I am sitting behind home plate with these guys, holding a stop watch and radar gun, checking out keen, young athletes, commenting on a “good body” or “quick hands,”
You never know what life holds in store!
(PS: And to the editor: Don’t even bother to ask for any inside tips on who Wayne likes best or is interested in picking for the June draft. He has already warned that you might throw me a curve. My lips are sealed.)