It’s hard to tell who is happier with the way things are working out, Will Norrell or Scott Forbes.
Norrell, an Elizabeth City resident and former College of The Albemarle baseball player, is in his first year as a team manager/bullpen catcher for the University of North Carolina.
Forbes is the Tar Heels’ associate head coach and pitching coach who heeded a suggestion from second cousin and COA athletic director Jeff Carter that UNC give Norrell the opportunity.
It appears to be a match made in Carolina blue heaven.
“It’s been a blast being on the field every day,” said Norrell, whose bedroom at home has always been painted a very specific shade of blue. “Being around the program I grew up following is mind-boggling.”
And, having Norrell around the nation’s preseason No. 2-ranked team has been a pretty good deal for the Tar Heels, too.
“We have been blown away by Will,” Forbes said. “Jeff told me he had an awesome kid, a real character kid, who is also an awesome student who was coming to UNC and wanted to be involved with the team in any way possible.
“He was right. Will is awesome. He’s out there every day with us and he’s a real pleasure to be around.”
As one of the team managers, Norrell has a lot of routine duties, like keeping the locker room tidy, equipment ready to go, compiling reports and working video computer programs at practice.
But he doesn’t see any of those tasks as beneath him.
“I’m doing a bit of everything and it’s all fun, I just want to do anything I can to help the team,” said Norrell, who was heat-pressing numbers onto practice uniforms one day last week.
He’s not giving you a line when he says that, either.
“Will is just so selfless,” Forbes said. “He’s willing to be there early, stay late and do all the little things, whether it is shagging fly balls, catching up for me at first base or working with the pitchers.
“He’s always got a good hop in his step, too.”
That total commitment and the fact that he has two years of college baseball experience under his belt has earned Norrell the respect of the UNC players and coaches.
“From the first day of
practice in the fall, everyone has made me feel like I am a part of the team,” said Norrell, who was thrilled to hang with other athletes at the N.C. State football game and has seven baseball players in one of his classes. “That’s just the way they are around here. It’s great.
“I’ve probably caught a billion bullpens already, but I get a 'thank you’ or a fist bump from the pitchers after every session. Every time. Without exception.”
Forbes said he loves having Norrell in the bullpen.
“He’ll sit down there and catch forever,” he said. “He does a great job of giving me and the pitchers feedback about the way they are throwing. He never complains about it, either. That can be pretty hard to do when you are on your eighth or ninth pitcher of the day.”
Although he was a little nervous about catching pitchers who can throw in the high-90s — the kind of stuff he never saw at COA — Norrell, who was a utility infielder with the Dolphins, adjusted quickly to handling guys who could be major leaguers in a few years.
“Very high level pitchers throw a lot harder, but it hasn’t been as difficult as I thought it would be,” he said. “Since it’s not really a game I don’t have to think about throwing down to second base and these guys can put the ball in a cup because their location is so good.
“They get it where you want it 98 percent of the time.”
While his manager/bullpen catcher duties can be grueling and time-consuming, some perks have come with the job.
One of the best is that he’s got plenty of official UNC gear, and he didn’t have to buy it in a store, either.
“The very first day of practice they gave me two hats, two pairs of shorts, two T-shirts and sweats,” he said. “We have seven different hats for the season.”
Norrell also received a brand-new catcher’s mitt with his name on it.
But it’s still sitting in its original box.
“It’s too pretty to use,” Norrell said with a laugh. “I use an old one that Tim Fedorowicz used. He played at UNC and is now in the Dodgers system.”
Wearing a former Tar Heel’s glove and catching the occasional live batting practice is as close to being on the field for a real game that Norrell will come.
While that may be difficult for someone who started playing baseball when he was four years old, Norrell has come to grips with the fact that his playing days are over.
“I knew my last year at COA was going to be it,” he said. “Actually, I started the transition last summer when I worked some baseball camps here, serving as a mentor instead of playing.
“Staying active in the bullpen and maybe playing first or third when they have four-man drills has helped, too.
“It’s different not playing, even a little weird. I know with 65 games and 40 ACC games I’m going to miss playing, but at least I am still around the game and I think I am helping the team.”
Norrell, a junior who compiled a 3.5 GPA in his first semester in Chapel Hill as a political science major, plans to enter law school at UNC and will try to stay involved with the baseball program as long as possible.
“I saw a story about a softball manager who is still helping the team while she is in the first year of law school,” he said.
“If I could do that, it would be awesome.”