In June 2011, Daniel Norris signed his first pro baseball contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. It came with a $2 million signing bonus, plus a deal with Nike.
He was 18 at the time, straight out of high school, and did what most people would do with a fat check: He bought his dream ride.
Unlike most people, this meant a 1978 Volkswagen camper.
“I knew after I signed [with the Blue Jays] that I was going to get a Volkswagen van,” Norris told GrindTV. “It was my dream car.”
What’s more, he chose to live out of his $10,000 mustard-yellow van — nicknamed “Shaggy” — during the offseason. He converted Shaggy into a crash pad for the winters of 2012, 2013, and 2014.
Norris hasn’t spoken publicly about his living situation for a while, but Shaggy made an appearance on his Instagram as recently as early March:
During spring training in Florida — baseball’s “preseason” — while most players are living in hotels or apartments, Norris could often be found in his “home on wheels” in a Walmart parking lot, ESPN reported in 2015.
Why camp out behind the dumpsters of a Walmart and live off a scant $800 a month, despite the number of zeroes tacked on his bank account balance?
His childhood hints at the answer. He was raised in Johnson City, Tennessee and taught to embrace the outdoors and live simply. “I grew up with a simple lifestyle, and I knew going into professional baseball that would be tested,” Norris told GrindTV. “In my mind there’s no need for luxury, or at least society’s sense of the word.”
As he explained to ESPN’s Eli Saslow, “It’s like a yin-and-yang thing for me. I’m not going to change who I am just because people think it’s weird.”
As Saslow puts it, Norris — who has a sign in his van that reads “Nonconformist” — “was terrified of living by someone else’s code,” and the simplicity of van life would not only provide an escape from the pressures of professional baseball, but would make it easier for him to stick to his and his family’s core values.
“It really shows me that I can live a normal life without needing luxuries,” he told ESPN.
Today, two and a half weeks into the spring baseball season, 22-year-old Norris is competing for one remaining spot in the Detroit Tigers’ starting rotation.
As for whether or not the van life takes away from focusing on baseball, Norris doesn’t think so. As he told Saslow: “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.”