As Norby rises through O's ranks, his brother carries on ECU legacy

February 28th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Jake Rill’s Orioles Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Whenever gets the opportunity during baseball season, he watches or tracks the games played by East Carolina University. The 23-year-old Orioles infield prospect is a former ECU Pirate, and he often supports his former program on social media.

So after Norby finished his Spring Training work at the Ed Smith Stadium complex on Feb. 16, he streamed ECU’s opener vs. Rider, as he normally would this time of year. But this season, he has a rooting interest that goes beyond a former college player cheering on his old school.

That day at Clark-LeClair Stadium, a freshman left-handed pitcher made his collegiate debut: Ethan Norby, Connor’s younger brother.

“It was weird, for sure. But I was super happy for him,” said the elder Norby, Baltimore’s No. 6 prospect per MLB Pipeline. “It’s always weird, right? Because you picture them still as your little sibling.”

It wasn’t always the plan for Ethan to go to ECU, where Connor played from 2019-21. Quite the opposite.

Ethan NorbyEast Carolina University

Originally, Ethan wanted to carve a different path. He had already been the second Norby to play for a program during his time at East Forsyth High School in Kernersville, N.C. When he was going through the recruiting process in the summer of 2022, Connor told him, “Don’t close the door on ECU.” Still, it didn’t seem likely another Norby would become a Pirate.

“I didn’t really want to come here, honestly,” Ethan said. “I didn’t want to follow in his footsteps.”

Shortly after that, the younger Norby had a change of mind. That summer, Ethan got a call from ECU pitching coach Austin Knight. Only a few days later, Ethan was on campus for a visit. Then, only minutes later, he committed to play for the Pirates.

Connor didn’t exactly see it coming. As he remembers it, Ethan called him 30 minutes after the visit to say he wanted to commit to East Carolina. After Connor suggested taking some time to think about it, Ethan called back another half hour later to break the news.

“I’m like, ‘All right, well, you didn’t listen to anything anyone said. But I’m glad,’” Connor said. “At that point, it was cool, and I understood the significance behind it.”

“It just all hit me,” Ethan said. “I could go to the same place that he played college baseball at, continue that legacy.”

ECU is off to a 5-3 start this season, and Ethan has already made his first three pitching appearances. After starting a bullpen game at Old Dominion on Tuesday, he has a 9.00 ERA over four innings.

If Ethan seeks any advice about overcoming a bit of a slow start, he won’t have to look far.

Connor’s freshman season with the Pirates wasn’t his best, as he hit .194 (6-for-31) over 27 games in 2019. He only got sporadic playing time and didn’t record his first hit until April 24 of that year in the Pirates’ 41st game.

How’d Connor respond? By hitting .403 (25-for-62) in 17 games as a sophomore in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, then hitting .415 (102-for-246) in 61 games as a junior in ‘21 and getting selected by the Orioles in the second round of the 2021 MLB Draft.

“That’s all he needed. He’s just taken off ever since then,” said Ethan, who became increasingly confident that Connor would eventually be a big leaguer while watching his brother’s games in 2020.

Connor is now on the MLB doorstep. He had a remarkable season at Triple-A Norfolk in 2023 -- posting a .290/.359/.483 slash line with 40 doubles, 21 homers, 92 RBIs and 104 runs scored in 138 games -- and it wouldn’t be surprising if he arrives in Baltimore sometime in ‘24.

Perhaps Ethan will be a top MLB Draft prospect by the time 2026 or ‘27 rolls around, and he could follow his older brother into the pros. Maybe in the future, they’ll both be big leaguers.

“With how hard he works and the time he commits to himself, the work ethic he has and what he expects out of himself, I’ve never seen it in a kid that age,” Connor said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if he reaches the big leagues at all one day.”

Connor should already be there by that point, with his debut day an approaching milestone for him and his supporters.

“It’ll just be an unbelievable experience for him, my family and I,” Ethan said, “just seeing that come true.”