Saturday's Alumni Game at Mount St. Joseph marked the celebration of the school's rich baseball heritage. It also marked the end of an era.
Before a crowd of supporters and former players, Gaels coach Dave Norton officially announced his retirement after 30 years as the school's baseball coach. Assistant Jody Harris will guide the program next year.
Norton cited his role as the school's new principal as the major factor in his decision. He took over in that position in January.
"For the good of the school, it's the right thing to do," Norton said. "I thought about resigning last year during the season but decided against it. It's sad, and I'm going to miss it because it's been such a part of my life for so long. Still, I know where my responsibilities are."
Norton compiled a 603-264 record and took the Gaels to the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association — and before that, Maryland Scholastic Association — playoffs for 24 straight years. In 1989, his team ranked as high as seventh in the nation.
Norton arrived at the West Baltimore school in 1975. After seven years as an assistant, he took over the varsity program and never left. He's managed four major leaguers (New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, Chicago White Sox pitcher Gavin Floyd and retired Washington Nationals pitcher Mike O'Connor), and Orioles farmhand Steve Clevenger, who plays for the Triple-A Norfolk Tides. Clevenger played with the Chicago Cubs
Asked whether he knew they would reach such a lofty level, Norton said that in some cases he did.
"With Mark — and with Gavin, too, really — it was pretty easy to tell. I realized that Mark had the tools in his sophomore year. He had God-given talent, and he just kept getting better and better. Gavin was the same way. They both developed quickly," Norton said.
Asked how the game has changed in his 30 years, Norton said modern technology and the involvement of parents are the two major factors.
"There are so many distractions for kids these days," he said. "So many other things that can lead them astray. Sometimes I don't think the dedication is there that needs to be there. Parents at all levels — not just the high school level — have changed, too. Many push their kids way too hard, and they're just not ready for that. It's just a game. When they have that much pressure on them at a young age, they start to lose focus."
Harris, who played under Norton when he was an assistant in 1977 and served as an assistant from 1985 to 2011, said Norton's ability to adapt to those changes was a major reason for his success.
"He demanded the best out of his players, but he adjusted and recognized the changes in his players," Harris said. "He was always able to adapt without changing his core principles. He's won over 600 games, so he must have done something right."
Norton says he has many memories, but for the most part they are of individual moments and not specific teams.
"I have different memories of kids and how they worked so hard," Norton said. "The satisfaction is definitely there when I watch someone like Mark play. I remember one time when he hit a home run off the JumboTron at the Bowie Baysox stadium. I've been very blessed with the players I've coached and the parents I've had. We've gone all over the country, and I always made sure that we did things when we made trips. Things like visiting historical sites. I tried to be a teacher as well as a coach."
Norton says stepping away is hard, but he might not do so entirely.
"With Jody's approval, I think you may see me down here occasionally helping out," Norton said. "I still have my fungo bat, and it's not going anywhere."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun