The Guy on the Board
by Charles H. Roberts III
Daniel Norris pitches in around Buffalo
Alan Barraclaugh is pocket-poor but rich at heart. At least that’s how he came across to a photographer in Buffalo who is just the opposite—poor at heart but deep by way of pocket.
On a recent Thursday afternoon, the almost-summer sun was beating down on the crest of Barraclaugh’s bald head—sweat beading and dripping into the salty-colored, horseshoe-pattern of hair that stretched backward from one ear to the other.
He was outfitted in older tennis sneakers, shorts, a light jacket and a V-neck T-shirt that exposed a bit of white chest hair and a hemp necklace with a crucifix. A backpack was draped over his left shoulder—overflowing with what appeared to be a survival kit of sorts, including a heavier coat and a bottle of water.
As Barraclaugh walked along Pearl Street in downtown Buffalo, he mumbled quietly to himself—seemingly a bit agitated. It was approaching noon, and he’d yet to secure enough money for lunch, he said later.
But then he was reminded of a friend he made recently: a tall, muscular, bearded photographer who was out cruising around on an oversized skateboard, stopping to capture moments in time that caught his eye.
“The guy on the board,” Barraclaugh recalled, flashing a bright smile from behind his weathered grey beard. “What a great guy.”
The guy on the board was none other than the top prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays system—Daniel Norris, a 22-year-old pitcher, who is currently playing for the Triple-A affiliate Buffalo Bisons. The guy on the board is also the same guy who made national news earlier this spring for his choice to live off $800 per month while living in a 1978 Volkswagen Westfalia microbus, which he dubbed “Shaggy,” during Major League Baseball’s Spring Training.
Norris, who at one point collected a $2 million signing bonus, is known just as well for his action on the field—where he hurls the baseball at speeds close to 95 miles per hour—as he is off the field. Between surfing along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean during the offseason to skateboarding around Buffalo, he’s certainly a man who has a multitude of passions in life.
One of those off-the-field passions—photography—brought him to his encounter with Barraclaugh.
“It was one of the days where there was a lot of fog around here,” Norris said. “So I got on my skateboard and started running around, taking some photos.
“But then it was pretty cool. I rode past this guy right over here by the stadium and he kind of just caught my eye. He said, ‘Cool board, dude,’ so I stopped and started talking to him a bit and asked if I could take his photo. And he said: ‘Sure. No problem.’”
From there, Norris’ curiosity turned to generosity.
“He was just so nice and such a gentleman, and I wanted to help him out a bit. But I was in workout stuff and didn’t have anything on me except my camera,” Norris said. “So I asked him if he’d stay there for a minute, and I went back to the clubhouse [at Coca-Cola Field] to grab some money and Peter Pan Peanut Butter crackers for him. He was just really happy.”
Norris took an image that will likely live forever on the internet—it’s posted on his Instagram account (@DanielNorris18)—while the image of the “guy on the board” is one that Barraclaugh has stored in the internal hard drive within his own mind.
“He was on his skateboard and he saw my sign—and he obviously wasn’t from around here,” Barraclaugh recalled with a smile. “The sign just says: ‘Broke. Please help.’ And then he helped me out, and I was just so thankful. He was a pretty cool guy, and he made me laugh.”
The two had a conversation about life, and while each of the men are in an entirely different phase—Barraclaugh, living meal-by-meal and likely in his 60s—there was a deep-rooted level of respect established that day.
Norris, who lives by sayings such as “Just keep livin’,” seemed truly moved by Barraclaugh’s positive attitude, despite his less-than-desirable position in life.
That curiosity about the world and the way people live is expressed through Norris' photography, a decent amount of which he shares on social media—including photos of the homeless and panhandlers in other cities.
“A lot of times [while I’m on a road trip], you’ll be out to breakfast or something—and I like to people watch—and you’ll see people and wonder what they’re doing in life,” Norris said. “And, you know, we’re pretty blessed to be doing this, so it kind of keeps things in perspective. And even though I got sent down [from major-league Toronto to Buffalo], we’re still very blessed to be here.”
A conversation with Norris left little doubt that his eyes are always open to the world around him.
Whether it’s from the pitcher’s mound, glancing out the windows of “Shaggy” or through the lens of his camera—a Cannon 5D Mark III, on which he uses an 85-millimeter lens for portraits—Norris, who stresses that life is about balance, seems pretty even-keeled for a multi-faceted guy.
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