The Times West Virginian

Prep Sports

June 8, 2014

Norman overcomes injury to lead Polar Bears

FAIRMONT — It happened in the blink of eye.

Austin Norman dropped back to pass and before he knew it the ambulance was on the field. In the next few hours, Norman would learn that he’d suffered a broken fibula and dislocated ankle. But he didn’t have time to sulk. Baseball season was just five short months away.

“I knew that at the time it was bad, but I knew that something good would come out of it,” Norman remembered. “I didn’t know when, but I knew with baseball coming up, something good would come.”

And he was right.

The senior produced a .418 batting average, drilling 12 home runs and driving in 48 Fairmont Senior runs at the plate as well as pitching to a 5-2 record with a 1.35 ERA and 85 strikeouts this past season, earning him the Times West Virginian baseball player of the year recognition.

His productive season came just one year after a solid junior campaign where he hit just over .400.

One would think that a player who hit double-digit home runs would have expected such a season, right?

“Not at all,” Norman said, laughing when asked if he thought he would have had this kind of power when the season started. “We talked about it, but I didn’t think it was going to happen. I was just going for base hits.”

But then in the opening game with Liberty (Harrison), Norman realized what he was capable of.

“That first game I came out and hit two home runs,” he said. “And then it was just a countdown to 10. I knew the school record was around 14, but I didn’t get it.”

It wasn’t just Norman who had noticed a difference, either.

Former Fairmont Senior assistant coach Steve Harbert said that when he watched the lefty bat this season that he could tell something was different. But it only took a quick conversation to find out what had made his bat pop.

“Talking to him, it was his reps in the offseason,” Harbert said. “He's a hard worker, and unfortunately he had an injury that kept him from basketball but it paid off by allowing him to get those extra reps.”

The injury may have been a blessing in disguise for Norman, who is committed to Division I Marshall to play baseball next season.

He remembers the conversation with doctors, who told him the severity of his injury. He remembers the countless calls, texts and visits he received, telling him to get better soon because his teammates need him on the diamond. And he surely remembers the countless hours of rehabilitation it took to get him back on the field.

“I never missed a game, though,” Norman added.

His stellar individual performance will surely be one to remember as Fairmont Senior players come up through the ranks. If he’s taught them anything, it’s that you can’t give up.

“I learned that no matter what life throws at you, there’s a positive side,” said sophomore middle infielder Trae Hall.

Norman hopes to pass on the will to win and to work hard in the offseason to Hall and the next group of Polar Bears who will become upperclassmen next season, saying that if he had one bit of advice to pass down, it’d be to win the offseason.

“We put a lot of work in in the winter in the weight room and the batting cage as a team, and I hope they realize that that paid off,” Norman said. “The only way to get to Charleston is to do that. Every other team is doing that.”

For Hall and the rest of the team who say goodbye to five seniors after just falling short of the state championship game, Norman has provided a spark in the game of the next generation.

“He’s an inspirational person. The way he bounced back from that injury was incredible,” Hall said. “He’s the heart of our team — a true leader.”

Email Matt Welch at mwelch@timeswv.com or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.

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