West Coast League alumnus Bud Norris (pictured) will throw the first pitch of the 2013 Major League Baseball season.
The veteran Houston right-hander, a standout on the 2005 Aloha Knights, has earned the starting nod for Sunday night’s game against the Texas Rangers at Minute Maid Park, the first big league game this season. It will be televised nationally by ESPN.
It’s also the first American League game in club history for Houston. The Astros, who joined the National League in 1962 as an expansion franchise, moved to the AL in the offseason so each league would have 15 teams.
“I’m very honored,” Norris said in an interview with MLB.com. “It’s something I’ve been working for my whole career, something everyone works for their whole career. It’s a childhood dream to have an Opening Day game like that.
“I’m excited to go out there and give this team every opportunity to go out there and win, and very excited to do it in Houston on a nationally televised game.
“You don’t have an opportunity all the time to throw the first pitch of the season. When I mean childhood dreams come, that’s truly what it is. I remember listening on the radio Opening Day, and it’s a big anticipation thing.
“Just to know that day is when I get to go out there and play baseball in the city of Houston, it’s truly exciting, and I’m honored.”
Houston manager Bo Porter said Norris deserves the opening-night honor because he has established himself as a team leader, done everything asked of him, and pitches well at home.
“You look at his home and road splits and how well he’s pitched at Minute Maid Park and how well he’s pitched in big games…I think he gets up for big games,” Porter said. “He had the second-best home ERA (1.71) in all of baseball” in 2012.
Norris was an All-West Coast League selection in his lone season with the Knights, following his sophomore year at Cal Poly. He was 7-1 with a 1.09 ERA in 10 appearances, with 75 strikeouts in 66 innings. Norris, current Los Angeles Angels right-hander Tommy Hanson, and Zach Bird tied for the team lead in wins.
It’s the first season-opening start for Norris, a four-year veteran who was 4-1 with a 1.71 ERA at home and 7-13 with a 4.65 ERA in 29 starts overall in 2012. Slowed by injuries after a fast start, he went 18 consecutive starts without a win at one point but finished the season with back-to-back victories and 13.1 consecutive scoreless innings.
He was 2-0 with a 3.92 ERA in five spring training appearances, with 12 strikeouts in 20.2 innings. He pitched six shutout innings against St. Louis on March 22 in his final spring training start.
“I think he’s earned it,” Houston GM Jeff Luhnow said of Norris’s opening-night opportunity. “His last outing was very good, and he’s proven he can pitch at Minute Maid and pitch in big games, and he’s been around this organization.
“He deserves to be our Opening Day starter, and I think everybody in the organization would support that. I would hope he goes out and has a game that I know he’s capable of having and gives us a ‘W’ on that opening night.”
Bud’s parents will travel from his hometown of Novato, Calif., to Houston to be on hand for the historic occasion.
“I’m extremely honored and humbled by the experience,” Norris said. “I’ve always been the player chasing the lead dog, so I’m excited. This is something I’ve always wanted.”
“I talked to [former Houston pitcher] Roy Oswalt when I was a young player, and it’s an honor. You want to prove to your team and your city you’ve earned it. I think I have, and I’m excited to go forward. I’m hoping this is one of many, but I;m going to take this and enjoy it.”
Norris isn’t the only WCL alum to be named an opening-day starter. The Orioles tabbed former Wenatchee AppleSox Jason Hammel. He will start versus his former team the Tampa Bay Rays.
Other former WCLers who have made MLB rosters are starting pitcher Hanson (Knights) of the LA Angels, second baseman Eric Sogard (Bend) and starting pitcher Tommy Milone (Wenatchee) of the Oakland A’s, starting pitcher Jeff Francis (Bellingham) of the Colorado Rockies, starting first baseman Chris Davis (Kelowna) of the Baltimore Orioles, starting outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (Bend) and pitcher Clay Mortensen (Wenatchee) of the Boston Red Sox, catcher Chris Stewart (Knights) of the New York Yankees, starting pitcher Jeremy Hefner (Spokane) of the New York Mets, pitcher Stephen Fife (Bellingham) of the LA Dodgers, pitcher Marc Rzepczynski (Knights, Bellingham) of the St. Louis Cardinals and pitcher Jim Henderson (Kelowna) of the Milwaukee Brewers.