He may be a top prospect for the Toronto Blue Jays, but this unconventional athlete thrives living the simple life in his 1978 Volkswagen van.
Meet Daniel Norris, a signed $2 million dollar pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays… who lives in a broken-down camper van behind a Walmart in Florida. His advance for the baseball team may be impressive, but that is not the most fascinating thing about this outdoorsy athlete: The intuitive 21-year-old will soon star in the big leagues, but he’s happy living a simple life outside of the stadium, favoring simplicity and restraint over affluent excess.
When Norris signed with the Blue Jays right out of high school in 2011, his first priority wasn’t to hit the shopping malls like his teammates and purchase as many material possessions as possible. His aspiration was different: to invest in a simple, 1978 Volkswagon van that he could live in and travel around in to find epic surf spots, hiking trails, and climbing walls. The intelligent young man even handed over his finances to an adviser, allotting himself just a basic amount to subsist on every month so he did not get overwhelmed by the paycheck sent his way for doing something that he just really enjoy doing: playing baseball.
Said Daniel in an interview with GrindTV, “I’m actually more comfortable being kind of poor,” because not having money maintains his lifestyle and limits the temptation to conform.
Daniel developed his passion for the outdoors while growing up in Johnson City, Tennessee. His fervor for simplicity was partially built in his father’s mountain bike shop, and his childhood regularly consisted of mountain biking and camping trips in the wilderness. Today he uses his unbridled time to travel and experience the outdoors in his beloved van, Shaggy.
Named after a character in ‘Scooby Doo’, his 1978 Volkswagen camper is equipped with a bed and kitchenette, which Norris uses to make simplistic meals over a stove-top. “I knew after I signed [with the Blue Jays] that I was going to get a Volkswagen van,” said Daniel. “It was my dream car. ‘Shaggy’ wasn’t even for sale when I got her. My dad just knew a guy who knew a guy through the bike shop.”
To keep with his minimalistic lifestyle, Norris never fills Shaggy beyond a quarter tank. He fixes the van’s engine with duct tape rather than taking it to a mechanic. And instead of eating out with teammates, he writes each night in a “thought journal” that rests on the dashboard.
Some of his contemplative thoughts include, “Research the things you love. Gain knowledge. It’s valuable,” and “Be kind. Be courteous. Love others and be happy. It’s that simple.”
When not training, Daniel and Shaggy trek through the mountains of Tennessee, adventure the Carolina Coast for prime surfing, and then return to Florida every spring for baseball training. But even though the star pitcher participates in three-a-day practices during training season, he insists that some of the best cross-training opportunities arise in his travels. “Surfing is great for your shoulders and core, hiking is a good lower body workout, and rock climbing… well, if you’ve ever rock climbed, good luck getting out of bed the next day!” shares Norris.
While the van-living life may seem unorthodox to his fellow Blue Jays, Norris doesn’t seem phased by the speculation. In fact, many of his teammates have joined him for camping excursions, all of them expressing serious interest in coming back soon to spend more time in the wilderness.
Why would a talented pitcher with a consistent 92-per-mile fastball, a deal with Nike, and a growing fan club desire to live in such an unconventional way?
It seems the exactitude required in the field is balanced by the freedom his van allows. “It’s like a yin-and-yang thing for me,” he told ESPN. “I’m not going to change who I am just because people think it’s weird. The only way I’m going to have a great season is by starting out happy and balanced and continuing to be me. It might be unconventional, but to feel good about life, I need to have some adventure.”
“Where else can you be as free as by yourself in the middle of nowhere, or in the middle of the ocean, or on the peak of a mountain. Adventure is freedom.” – from Daniel’s thought journal.
And adventure is one thing that does not seem to be lacking in Daniel’s minimalistic lifestyle. His fervor for baseball is matched by his ambition to tackle any outdoor activity, and his coach and teammates have noticed:
“He takes care of himself as well as anybody we’ve got,” says Tony LaCava, Toronto’s assistant general manager. “He’s in great shape. He competes on the mount. If that wasn’t the case, maybe we’d be more worried about some of the other stuff. But right now, the van and all that is secondary. He has great values, and they’re working for him.”
Norris’ inspiring example gives a glimpse into the life of someone who has tapped into living simply, in true connection with nature. There were multiple reasons that Daniel consciously decided to live in a van. He wanted the freedoms that come along with it, but also he did not want to let the fame or money of his career change his values.
“I think the simplicity of it all was the most appealing,” he explains. “I grew up with a simple lifestyle, and I knew going into professional baseball that would be tested. In my mind there’s no need for luxury, or at least society’s sense of the world… I consider my life luxurious – I live on a beach with an ocean-front view, hearty meals, and hot French-pressed coffee at my disposal. That’s fancy, right?”