July 16, 2013
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. - Even as Greg Norton was promoted to be the manager of the Florida Marlin's Triple-A affiliate in New Orleans, even as he ran the hitting program for the entire Marlins minor league organization, he was intrigued by the idea of coaching baseball in college.
A former Oklahoma All-American, Norton thought such a move would be good for him and good for his family. When first-year Auburn baseball coach Sunny Golloway called with a job offer, he was immediately interested. And Monday, he joined the Auburn staff as hitting coach.
The decision, he said, was difficult. But in the end, it was about family.
Norton was in Auburn on Monday, accompanied by his wife, Jaena, and their children, 8-year-old son Jace and 7-year-old daughter Ciana. Jace was already sporting an Auburn cap.
"It was nice to be able to share it with them," Norton said. "With all this traveling and all that, my wife is ready to settle down a little bit. This is something I've really been looking forward to."
It was another step in a journey that started when Norton, as a senior in high school in Seandro, Calif., was chosen by the San Francisco Giants in the seventh round of the 1990 major league draft. He passed on starting his professional career and enrolled at Oklahoma, where Golloway was an assistant coach. He was drafted in the second round of the 1993 draft by the Chicago White Sox.
In 1996, a dream came true when Norton made his major league debut with the White Sox. Norton would go on to play all or part of 13 seasons for six major league teams. He played every infield position and in the outfield. He finished with .249 career batting average and 89 home runs. And he left proudly after playing his second season with the Atlanta Braves in 2009.
"Was I a star? No," Norton said. "But not too many people can say they played 13 years in the big leagues. I didn't stay around just on talent. There is character. There is work ethic. I take that into my job and try to instill that in my kids. I think that goes a long way. Just being a good person will keep you around and give you some opportunities you might not otherwise have."
After he left the Braves, Norton joined the Marlins' organization as the New Orleans Zephyrs' hitting coach. Midway through the 2010 season, manager Fredi Gonzalez joined the Marlins big-league team and Norton became the Zephyrs' manager. He was the manager for the entire 2011 season. That's when he decided he needed some time with his family and took the 2012 season off.
But the Marlins soon were calling again. They wanted Norton to be the hitting coordinator for the entire minor league system. It was a prestigious job.
"What my job entailed was I would go to spring training and set our overall hitting theory for the entire minor league system," Norton said. "Whether we have a two-strike approach, whether we are swinging early in the count, where we want to hit the ball on the field, things like that were mine. You have to own it. There is a lot of responsibility."
And he was on the road again, frequently away from his family.
"It was a challenge," Norton said. "It was something I was interested in., but when I spoke to Sunny, I was in the middle of 32 out of 36 days on the road. That did not hurt."
Norton plans to be in Auburn with his family until Friday. He will leave to finish up his work with the Marlins and then turn his attention to helping Golloway in his mission to restore the Tigers to baseball prominence.
"I understand where these guys are doing and where they want to get to," Norton said. "I can say `This is what the pro guys are going to expect when you get there. This is what you have to do now.' I played with a bunch of great hitters and had some good hitting coaches and managers. I've done exactly what these kids are doing."
Learning from Norton, Golloway said, will be a valuable opportunity for Auburn players, current and future.
"If you are a young prospective student-athlete," Golloway said, "that would be somebody you'd want to tutor you as far as making that next step."
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: