BALTIMORE - At a certain point, Dave Norton had to make his decision official. In his mind, he picked the perfect time and place.
In front of four decades' worth of former players at the first alumni game on Saturday, Norton announced his plans to step down as Mount St. Joseph's baseball coach following 38 years.
Norton, who spent his final 31 seasons as the varsity coach and built a 603-264 record, became the school's principal in January. He coached the Gaels to a 19-11 season in the spring, but knew he couldn't do both jobs again. He also coached the JV for seven seasons.
"The sad part is I won't be the coach anymore," said Norton, who moved from Baltimore to Pasadena when he was 8 and still lives there. "But I'm OK with that. It's a very tough decision because I love baseball, and it's been part of my life, here at Mount St. Joe, in particular, for 38 years. ... But the way I look at it is I have a bigger team now. It's all of Mount St. Joe, and I'm responsible for that."
Norton, a 1971 graduate of the school, returned to Mount St. Joseph after getting his degree from Towson, He started coaching the junior varsity team in 1977. He worked his way up to varsity and took over the team in 1983, replacing Severn coach Hal Sparks. Since then, the Gaels have been one of the strongest programs in the Baltimore area and Norton has groomed major-leaguers Mark Teixeira and Gavin Floyd, both of Severna Park.
They won championships in 1986, 1987, 1993, 1996 and 2004 and their only losing seasons came in 2011 and 2012. Mount St. Joseph rebounded last year for a 19-11, third-place finish in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference.
Jody Harris, a former player and longtime assistant of Norton's, is the Gaels' new coach. After throwing a ceremonial first pitch in the alumni game, Norton handed the ball to Harris for another.
"On the surface of it, it's a pretty daunting task to take over for somebody who has that kind of legacy," Harris said. "But him and I have worked together for so many years - 26 years - that I've had a front-row seat for how you're supposed to do it. I'm confident I'm going to be able get the most out of the players."
Harris coached with Norton for 25 seasons before taking a break for a couple years. When Norton learned of his promotion, he asked Harris to come back for support during the season - and because he had something bigger in mind.
Norton had a feeling he wasn't going to be able to stay with the baseball team after the 2013 season and planned to let the parents and players know on March 19. But he wasn't completely sure. Then he set another deadline. And another. And one more.
Five months after the original date, Norton finally made it official.
"Even during the season, I knew to do what has to be done and to be fair to everyone, I had to dedicate myself," Norton said. "It just wouldn't be right to, in springtime, just dedicate myself to baseball when I should be watching the lacrosse games and the track teams, and I need to do that. As the principal of the school, you need to do that."
Norton, who said he owed a lot of his success to former Arundel coach and athletic director Bernie Walter, earned a spot in the Maryland State Association of Baseball Coaches' Hall of Fame in 1999.
After playing lacrosse and running cross country and track with the Gaels, Norton got his start in coaching with a softball team. After that, he coached his younger brother's Little League baseball team. After 603 varsity victories and 12 first-place finishes - on top of two championship seasons at JV - Norton will become a full-time spectator.
Prior to the game, Mount St. Joseph athletic director Kraig Loovis presented Norton with a lifetime achievement plaque.
"Dave has accepted the role of the principal of the Mount, making it nearly impossible to continue on as our baseball coach," Loovis said. "So today, we want to recognize his extraordinary career and accomplishments as the school's baseball coach. ... It's more than wins and losses and championships. I've heard from guys over last last two weeks, saying Dave's been a father figure and a mentor to hundreds of St. Joe baseball players over the years. That's what it's all about."
The Gaels graduated only four seniors from last season's team and return starting pitcher Zach Stoll, another Pasadena resident, for his sophomore year. That should make things a bit easier for Harris, who - if needed - will only have to look as far as the principal's office for help.
"He's going to go down as one of the most successful baseball coaches in the country," Harris said. "I can't even start to fathom that. But I like our team, and I like our kids. We're going to be real competitive. ... And any time he wants to come out and hit fungoes, what am I going to say? The man's involved with my paycheck. He's got an open invitation."
Norton won't shy away from it, either.
Before it ended, though, Norton got one more chance to watch his players play the game he's been teaching for more than 40 years. He shook their hands before and after they took the field and spent the two hours between reflecting on his time.
If Norton could, he'd do it over again. Because this was perfect.
"It's been so much fun," Norton said. "The people I've met, places I've gone. We've traveled to just about every state. That's been a great experience for the team. All the people, the friends I've met along the way. It's just been great."