Crimson Tide land five players from Alabama and one from Tennessee, Florida and Mississippi
Dax Norris, one of the cornerstones of the University of Alabama's baseball revival in the 1990s under former head coach Jim Wells, enters his sixth season as assistant coach for the Crimson Tide. When Mitch Gaspard was named head coach in 2009, Norris was promoted to the recruiting coordinator for the program.
A hard-nosed player, Norris brings that same work ethic and intensity as the Crimson Tide's pitching coach and recruiting coordinator. After working as the hitting instructor from 2008-10, he took over the pitching staff and tutors the Alabama catchers, beginning with the 2011 season.
"With Dax being a player here, everybody remembers the type of player he was. He is the same way as a coach," said Gaspard. "He is a high energy guy that gives you great effort every day, and he bleeds crimson and white, and was an All-American here. His time as a player here and in professional baseball really brings a wealth of knowledge to our program."
With Norris and fellow Alabama All-American Andy Phillips spearheading much of the program's player recruitment, the Tide will enter the 2013 season with one of the top incoming classes in college baseball. The 11 signees that came to the Capstone for the upcoming season were rated fourth-best by Baseball America and No. 16 by Collegiate Baseball.
Norris enjoyed an 11-year professional baseball career with the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros organizations, before joining the coaching ranks in 2007. During his time with the two organizations, he was associated with some of the best pitching minds in the game. With the Braves, Norris worked with former MLB pitching coach Leo Mazzone and all-star pitchers Greg Maddox, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, then later with Houston's Andy Pettitte.
Norris helped centerfielder Taylor Dugas earn 2010 first team All-America honors by Baseball America after the sophomore hit .395 with 96 hits, 15 doubles, five triples, 59 walks and an on base percentage of .525. Dugas was seventh in the country in walks, 17th nationally in on-base percentage and 34th in hits. Junior shortstop Josh Rutledge finished sixth in the country with 107 total hits and joined Dugas as a first team All-SEC selection.
Norris' return to Tuscaloosa paid immediate dividends, as the Crimson Tide was one of the top offensive units in the country in 2009. That season the Tide ranked in the top-25 nationally in nine offensive categories, including home runs per game (7th, 1.84), slugging percentage (7th, .566), home runs (8th, 107), doubles (12th, 142), runs scored (18th, 509), runs per game (18th, 8.8), batting average (22nd, .330), doubles per game (23rd, 2.35) and total hits (25th, 689). Following the 2009 season, Norris, along with Gaspard, were named the SEC assistant coaches of the year by SEBaseball.com.
Norris tutored Kent Matthes, the 2009 SEC Player of the Year who led the nation with a school record 28 home runs. Matthes, a fourth-round draft pick by the Colorado Rockies, hit .358 with 28 home runs and 81 RBI in 2009. That season, Matthes ranked second nationally in home runs per game (0.50), third in slugging percentage (.858), sixth in RBI per game (1.45), 11th in RBI (81) and 12th in total bases (175). A finalist for several national awards, Matthes was named the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association District III Player of the Year.
In addition to Matthes, Norris also tutored second baseman Ross Wilson, shortstop Rutledge and third baseman Jake Smith during their 2009 first team All-SEC seasons. Outfielder Taylor Dugas was a Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball in addition to being selected to the All-SEC Freshman Team in 2009.
Norris earlier worked with 2008 All-SEC performers Alex Avila and Brandon May. Avila hit .343 with 17 home runs and 62 RBI as a junior and was selected in the fifth round of the 2008 MLB Draft, making his Major League debut with the Detroit Tigers on Aug. 6, 2009. He is the first Alabama player under Norris' tutelage to reach the big leagues. May, a 36th round draft pick in 2009 by the Chicago Cubs, hit .347 with 12 home runs and 69 RBI and led the SEC with 39 RBI in 30 league games. In 2008, May hit .365 with five home runs and 50 RBI. Vin DiFazio was a 12th-round draft pick by the Texas Rangers following the 2009 season.
Norris began his coaching career at Niceville (Fla.) High School, where he spent the 2007 season working under former Tide assistant coach Kevin Berry. Norris worked with the Niceville hitters and catchers and one of his star pupils was eventual Alabama pitcher Jimmy Nelson, who earned all-state honors in high school. Following his junior season at Alabama, Nelson was a second round draft pick by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2010.
Norris played 11 seasons with the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros organizations, reaching the triple-A level with both clubs and voted to the 2002 triple-A all-star team. He played in 846 career minor league games and batted .265 (771-for-2,914) with 73 home runs and 421 RBI. Norris had a career-high 122 hits and 72 RBI for the Greenville (S.C.) Braves (class AA, Southern League) in 2000 and smacked a career-high 15 home runs in Greenville in 1999. During the off-seasons, Norris played in the Venezuelan and Dominican winter leagues and also ran his own hitting school.
A 23rd-round draft pick by the Atlanta Braves in 1996, Norris had been a two-year starter for the Tide. He batted .283 (72-for-254) as a junior in 1995 with three home runs and 34 RBI in 63 starts. Norris was named to the 1995 NCAA East Regional all-tournament team, after batted .316 (6-for-19) with two runs scored and five RBI.
Norris was elected team captain on the Tide's 1996 SEC championship team that finished with a then-school record 50 wins. Alabama also captured the 1996 SEC Tournament championship at the Hoover Met and hosted an NCAA Regional for the first time in program history. Norris led the Tide to its first College World Series appearance since 1983 during his senior year. He batted .370 (105-for-284) with seven home runs and 49 RBI, en route to being named first team All-American by the Super Smith Team. He also was a first team All-SEC honoree and American Baseball Coaches Association All-South Region pick.
Following his professional career, Norris completed his bachelor's degree in human environmental science in 2007. Prior to playing at Alabama, Norris was a two-year starter at Central Alabama Community College in Alexander City, Ala.
A native of LaGrange, Ga., Norris was born Jan. 14, 1973. He is married to the former Rene' Simpkins. The couple welcomed their first child, son Colton Dax Norris, in October of 2010.