NORFOLK, Va. — Connor Norby knows the situation he’s in better than anyone.

Norby first made it to Triple-A in 2022 and has performed well there, hitting for a .291 average with 31 home runs in his 717 at-bats with the Tides. He’s a Norfolk legend, as his teammates say, and in just about any other organization he would be a starting on a major league team.

But not with the Orioles. There’s a backlog of talent, and Norby has watched younger prospects such as Jackson Holliday, who has spent less time in Triple-A and at second base, jump to the majors.

The 23-year-old is happy his friends have been given opportunities. But it’s hard not to wonder when his time will come.

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“You can get frustrated,” Norby said. “We all want to play in the big leagues, every single guy here, every single guy in the org. You have to be in the moment to get there and understand that a lot of this stuff you can’t control.”

Over the past few weeks, as Holliday struggled adjusting to major league life, Norby went through his own mental block. He was getting ahead of himself, wondering what it would have been like if that was him instead of focusing on where his feet were planted. It showed in his performance as he went 4-for-31.

He went through all his normal tactics. He scoured through video and put in extra work. He read the Bible, and thought back on the lessons he learned in “Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable,” a book by Tim Grover, Michael Jordan’s trainer. When that didn’t have its usual impact, he went a different route and tried to escape the game.

He played “Fortnite” with Ryan McKenna and Heston Kjerstad — who have both since been recalled by the Orioles — talked football with the Tides’ clubby and watched the Timberwolves beat the Suns in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

It all chipped away at his disappointment, but he still needed help. Really, he just needed to vent.

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He turned to Joe Bonvie, a retired U.S. Navy operational psychologist who works with the team as a mental trainer. Bonvie offered some advice, reminding Norby not to live or die by every at-bat, but he was really there just to listen.

Baltimore Orioles infielder Connor Norby (85) poses for a portrait during the Baltimore Orioles’ team picture day during spring training at Ed Smith Stadium on February 21, 2024.
Baltimore Orioles infielder Connor Norby (85) poses for a portrait team picture day at Ed Smith Stadium. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

“I’m a perfectionist in a sport you can’t be perfect in, which sucks,” Norby said. “My natural instinct is I go 3-for-4 and that one at-bat that I’m going to think about is that fourth at-bat that I got out on. I wish I was able to enjoy the success a bit more, but I think that’s what’s going to help me and my career.”

Norby saw an uptick in his performance, getting five hits in two games, but then dropped off, going just 4-for-21 against Gwinnett last week. Overall, though, he said he feels better and thinks he’s making positive strides. On the season, he has a respectable .833 on-base plus slugging in 26 games.

When, or if, he’ll get a chance in Baltimore is complicated. Holliday is back in Triple-A after going 2-for-34 in the majors, but is still the priority to be called back up as soon as he makes corrections at the plate. That means Holliday is back at second base, Norby’s primary position.

The Orioles already have Jordan Westburg, Ramón Urías and Jorge Mateo on their major league roster who can play second, and eventually Holliday will be back, so creating space for Norby in the infield may not be feasible.

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Joey Ortiz was in the same boat last year. The infielder spent 15 games in the big leagues, but the Orioles just didn’t have space for him with Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg playing so well. He was part of the offseason trade with the Brewers that sent Corbin Burnes to Baltimore, and is now a regular part of a major league lineup, hitting .279.

“Jackson leapfrogged him. It’s tough, the game is not fair,” Tides manager Buck Britton said of Norby. “It’s coming, there’s no question he’s going to play in the big leagues. If it’s for us, awesome. If it’s for someone else, awesome.”

Norby’s primary asset is his bat, but he’s focused on defense to up his value. He started learning outfield last year, spending time in left and right field, and said his mentality has shifted this year. He knows that it’s not his strong suit, but he’s trying to change that narrative.

“Last year, if I messed up I always thought it was OK, because I had never played out here before, I’m learning,” Norby said. “Now, I need to play good. I need show them I can play the spot.”

Every night, after his own game, Norby comes into the Tides clubhouse and is reminded of where he could be. The Orioles game is always on in the clubhouse and he checks the box score religiously, trying to picture himself in that spot helping them.

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At the end of the day, these are his friends and mentors. He knows them all and sees himself as an extension of the major league team.

He’s been told not to try to play general manager, to focus on where he is instead of focusing on how the guy ahead of him on the depth chart is doing. And he’s been reminded that his time is coming, it’s just a matter of when and where.

“The expectation is, ‘I play good, I advance,’” Britton said. “When your major league team is really good, sometimes you get that logjam. I think it’s all mental maturity, it’s hard to stay present. Just attack today and let tomorrow take care of yourself. ... I do think it’ll make him mentally tougher when he does get the opportunity.”

Danielle Allentuck covers the Orioles for The Baltimore Banner. She previously reported on the Rockies for the Denver Gazette and general sports assignments for The New York Times as part of its fellowship program. A Maryland native, Danielle grew up in Montgomery County and graduated from Ithaca College.

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