Behind the scenes of Connor Norby's MLB debut

June 5th, 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.

TORONTO -- When laid down in bed Sunday night, he tossed and turned for 45 minutes. He was still shaking a bit.

Norby knew Monday would be special, albeit long and emotionally draining. But he was eager.

With another Orioles top prospect arriving in MLB, here’s how the first day in the big leagues transpired for Norby, a 23-year-old infielder ranked No. 6 in Baltimore’s farm system by MLB Pipeline.

4:20 a.m. ET: The drive from Norfolk, Va., to Washington
Flights were booked from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to Toronto Pearson International Airport for two O’s Minor Leaguers -- Norby and left-hander . Norby’s first callup to the Majors came with his first international trip, as he had never exited the United States.

Fortunately, Norby had a friend during the 200-mile drive from Norfolk (where Baltimore’s Triple-A affiliate is based) to Washington. And the 28-year-old Vespi is used to these types of excursions, having been called up to the big leagues on 16 occasions over the past three seasons -- six times in 2022, six in ‘23 and now four in ‘24.

“I was happy I was there to be his chauffeur and kind of show him the ropes a little bit,” Vespi said with a smile. “I just told him it’s the same game, lights are a little brighter and there’s more people in the stands.”

About 2:30 p.m. ET: Norby gets to Rogers Centre
After his late-morning arrival in Toronto, Norby went to a Major League ballpark for work for the first time in the afternoon. Immediately upon stepping inside the visitors’ clubhouse, he was approached by Tim Cossins, the Orioles’ Major League field coordinator/catching instructor.

Cossins presented the lineup card, which showed Norby starting at second base and batting ninth for the opener vs. the Blue Jays.

“He was like, ‘You see this yet?’ And I was like, ‘No,’” Norby recalled. “He was like, ‘You want it?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ I was like, ‘Here we go.’”

3:45 p.m. ET: Triple-A Norfolk teammates reunite
Plenty of faces familiar to Norby filled the clubhouse throughout the afternoon, considering he was Minor League or Spring Training teammates with many of the players on Baltimore’s active roster. Among them is outfielder , who gave Norby a pat on the back and then sat down to chat.

Stowers was excited to see his friend, who also happens to be another talented youngster drafted and developed by the Orioles.

“You just see the ticker on MLB Network, it’s like ‘another top prospect,’” said Stowers, a 26-year-old taken in the second round of the 2019 Draft. “The amount of good players we have here, and in this organization, is crazy.”

5 p.m. ET: First warmups and batting practice
The first “Welcome to The Show” moment for Norby? When he and the O’s took the field for warmups and BP, with music blaring and fans filing into their seats.

“That was kind of when it was like, ‘It’s happening,’” Norby said.

As Norby began to stretch and to jog, he was near Stowers, infielder and outfielder , marking a quartet of former top prospects who previously spent time together in Triple-A.

“The clubhouse is almost completely made up of guys he’s played with before at some point,” Westburg said. “I hope it makes him comfortable. I hope he feels as settled in as possible.”

“It helps just having great relationships from sitting in Norfolk’s clubhouse till midnight after games, just hanging out,” Cowser added. “You kind of get to know everyone’s personality and what makes them tick, how their mind works.”

7:09 p.m.-9:39 p.m. ET: Norby’s first game
Norby’s debut didn’t bring an easy pitching assignment. Toronto started right-hander Kevin Gausman, a two-time All-Star who has finished in the top nine in Cy Young Award voting in each of the past three seasons.

“It’s the big leagues, so there’s never an easy landing spot,” manager Brandon Hyde said.

In Norby’s first plate appearance in the second inning, he struck out swinging on four pitches. In the fourth, he again K’d swinging on four pitches. In the seventh, he connected on a 1-2 splitter from Gausman for a well-struck flyout to left field.

“I thought my third at-bat was way better,” Norby said. “I thought I slowed the game down as best as I could. I’m telling you, I felt like I didn’t see a pitch until my third at-bat. Those first two went by really quickly. But that third at-bat, I felt like I was in my legs a little bit. I could feel my legs a little bit, actually.”

After Norby was pulled amid defensive changes to open the bottom of the seventh, he sat on the bench and chatted with veteran slugger .

“He was just like, ‘Take it in. Sit back, relax, enjoy it.’ Because I’ve earned it, and it doesn’t happen too often,” Norby said. “It was so special, just looking around and seeing everybody, big lights and all that. It’s the coolest job in the world.”

9:45 p.m. ET: First win and reflection
Norby is all about winning, and on the first night of his MLB career, he celebrated and experienced the good vibes in the Orioles’ clubhouse after the 7-2 win.

“I made sure I told him to keep the lineup card, make sure he gets everybody’s name on there and gets it all signed,” outfielder said. “It’s a special moment.”

Did Norby’s debut live up to everything he thought it would be?

“No. It was more,” Norby said. “Everyone who’s asked, I’ve said the same thing. You have a dream of what you think it’s going to be like when it happens, and it exceeded that in every single way imaginable.”