Norris Hopper rose no higher than Double-A in his first eight professional seasons. Then, in 2006, he made it to Triple-A and got his first big-league at-bat with the Reds, the organization with which he had signed as a six-year Minor League free agent in 2005. The 28-year-old speedster from Shelby, N.C., has been contributing big-time as a reserve outfielder for Cincinnati this season, batting .315 with a .351 on-base percentage over 73 at-bats. He recently answered some questions from MLBPLAYERS.com.
MLBPLAYERS.com: After playing much of nine seasons in the Minors, how are you enjoying playing in the big leagues?
Hopper: I feel like I'm living a dream. Every kid, it seems, dreams of playing in the Major Leagues or at the top of their favorite sport, and that's what I always wanted to do. I told myself at a young age that I would do whatever it took for me to get here.
MLBPLAYERS.com: Nine years is a long time. Did the time go by slowly?
Hopper: Nine years is a very long time. What was crazy about it is that I never once thought of giving up. I just knew this was where I wanted to be.
MLBPLAYERS.com: As you were watching other guys get promoted, did you ever get bitter or frustrated?
Hopper: There were times where I couldn't understand why some things were happening and other things were not happening. I guess it wasn't for me to figure it out. Still, I couldn't understand why some guys were moving up when I had a better batting average or I was playing better defense. But I told myself to go out there and grind it out.
MLBPLAYERS.com: Do you feel like you have been rewarded now for having such a positive attitude?
Hopper: Yes, because I've seen a lot of guys with a lot of talent who pouted and didn't give 100 percent when they saw other guys get moved up ahead of them. I guess the managers and instructors saw it wasn't bothering me. I didn't let it affect my game, and now it's paying off.
MLBPLAYERS.com: Were you ever given any type of label when you were in the Minors?
Hopper: I had never been a prospect on paper. I was never in a magazine listed as a prospect. But I knew what I could do on a baseball field, and that's all I could control.
MLBPLAYERS.com: When you got your initial recall last year from the Reds, you hit .359 over 21 games, and this year you are hitting well again. Isn't it supposed to be tough to hit at this level?
Hopper: Oh, it is what it is. I've just tried to come up and work hard. I'm about busting my tail every day.
MLBPLAYERS.com: You also hit your first home run last year. Did you get to keep the ball?
Hopper: I hit it in September off Rich Hill of the Cubs. I got the ball and it's in a case now.
MLBPLAYERS.com: You also play with a future Hall of Famer in Ken Griffey Jr. Have you ever gotten to play with anyone even remotely as talented as him?
Hopper: No, and it is just awesome to play with him. It's awesome to be around the guys I would see on TV. I always wanted to get to the big leagues. Not knowing if it would happen, I always gave it my best. It's just an honor to look around this clubhouse and be affiliated with guys like Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Eddie Guardado, Ryan Freel, Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang. It's unbelievable.
MLBPLAYERS.com: Finally, how did you stay motivated on the way up?
Hopper: I always got positive feedback on the way I played the game. But after six or seven years and still getting the same positive talk, I started to wonder. I started to think that I was getting positive feedback but I wasn't going anywhere. But like I said before, I told myself to stick with it, play hard and see what happens.
Jeff Moeller is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.