Lakeland, Fla. — Veteran catcher Derek Norris, a non-roster invitee to the Tigers’ big-league camp this spring, hopes that he’s finally, after nearly two-and-a-half years, put domestic-abuse allegations and his suspension last September in the rear-view.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Norris said after the first official pitchers and catchers workout Wednesday. “I think I learned a lot from it. But at the same time, it’s a new year and I am looking to get back on that field and back to the thing I love to do.”
Norris spoke publicly for the first time on the incident that was alleged to have happened in October 2015.
“The process has been completed and I am just looking forward to the new year, turning the page,” he said. “I want to focus on having a good spring and trying to break camp with this up and coming ballclub.”
Early last June, Norris’ ex-fiance Kristen Eck posted on Instagram that she was verbally and physically abused by Norris back in 2015. She accused Norris of putting her in a choke hold. That post was quickly taken down. There was no arrest and no charges were brought against Norris.
But on the basis of the Instagram account, Major League Baseball investigated and found enough to warrant an immediate suspension and forfeiture of $100,000. Norris already had been released by the Tampa Bay Rays when the suspension was levied.
Norris was the first player suspended under MLB’s three-year-old domestic abuse policy where the accusations came via social media.
Norris denied the accusation but cooperated with the investigation and did not appeal the ruling.
“Major League Baseball completed their investigation and we fully cooperated,” Norris said. “I am just looking forward to getting started this year and trying to turn the page.”
The Tigers signed Norris to a minor-league contract with a camp invite in December. Tigers assistant general manager David Chadd has known Norris and his family for decades; both are from the Wichita area.
“We did our due diligence,” Chadd said on Wednesday. “We talked to the powers that be (MLB Commissioner’s Office) and to the people who had the information and who talked to all the parties involved. Derek did the suspension. He did the counseling.
“Listen, this isn’t something we condone. I have two daughters and a wife of 30 years. Don’t portray me as somebody who is insensitive to this. I’m very sensitive. But we vetted all the information we could get from the Commissioner’s Office and they were on-board with us signing him.”
That was the point general manager Al Avila made during the winter meetings — that Major League Baseball had green-lighted the signing.
“They felt that at this point, we should sign the guy,” Avila said. “They said he had been suspended, they described what the situation was and that’s the way the process should work. There was a mistake made, they investigated it and they encouraged us to do the signing because they said, ‘Hey, this guy made a mistake, he was punished for it and now he should be back to work.
“Knowing some of his history, knowing him and his family, we felt it was more of an isolated thing and something that should never come up again for him.”
Manager Ron Gardenhire said he was glad Norris addressed the situation publicly and that he deserves to be in camp fighting for a roster spot.
“As far as we’re concerned, MLB cleared this guy and did all the background work on everything that happened,” he said. “I’m fine with the kid being out here. They signed him, we’ve put him out there with the rest of them and we’re all going to be fine.
“I’m happy he’s here and we’re excited to have him. He knows how to play baseball. The process has been done by MLB and we’ll go from here.”
Norris, who turned 29 Wednesday, has six years of big-league service time and was an All-Star with the A’s in 2014. He and veteran Brayan Pena are competing against John Hicks for the back-up catcher spot behind James McCann.
“I’m a firm believer that I still have a lot to offer on a baseball field,” he said. “I firmly believe I have a lot of good years left in me. I am looking to turn the page on what happened in the past and start fresh. I want the chance to show I can still do that.”
He was asked if situation taught him anything about himself.
“You learn new things every day; I learned new stuff out there today,” he said. “You learn stuff through the ups and downs, in life, baseball and everything. It just makes me stronger.”