'Close to home': Area natives Cecere, Norris thriving in Penn State baseball reunion

Apr. 4—Adam Cecere and Grant Norris either played on the same teams or faced off against each other in multiple sports, but especially on the baseball diamond, throughout the past 15 years.

The talented student-athletes forged a lasting friendship on and off the field.

This spring, two of the region's top baseball performers have reunited at Penn State under first-year Nittany Lions coach Mike Gambino.

"Playing close to home has been wonderful, especially playing with guys like Grant Norris, Bobby Marsh and Tayven Kelley," said Cecere, a graduate student pursuing a real estate law certificate at Penn State. "I played with all of those guys over the years."

A Forest Hills High School graduate and former AAABA Tournament standout, Cecere played 143 games as a Wake Forest University outfielder, hitting 32 homers and driving in 116 runs during four seasons with the Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA Division I power coached by Johnstown native Tom Walter.

Norris, a Somerset Area High School graduate, began his college baseball career at Duke University, another ACC program in North Carolina. He played shortstop for the Blue Devils.

'Really good friends'

After graduating a semester early from Duke with a sociology degree and a minor in environmental science, Norris migrated north to Penn State. He joined the Nittany Lions baseball team in January 2023 and is pursuing a business management foundations certificate.

Cecere graduated from Wake Forest with a communications degree this past spring and also made the trek to State College, citing his friendship with Norris among the deciding factors in his choosing Penn State for his final year of eligibility.

"We're really good friends, even off the field," said Norris, who also was a teammate of Cecere's on Flood City Elite and US Elite travel programs, as well as with the B.Hale Boilers in the Johnstown Recreation Pony League and Martella's Pharmacy in the Johnstown Collegiate Baseball League/AAABA Tournament.

"Going back to junior high and high school, we always hung out. Our families are close," Norris said. "We started playing together at (age) 13. We played against each other in youth league baseball and recreation basketball.

"It's been a really good relationship," Norris said. "It's really fun to see it still going on."

Penn State enters a three-game Big Ten series against Northwestern Friday at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

'Better every day'

The Nittany Lions are 13-12 with a 1-5 conference mark. Both Cecere and Norris are confident those numbers will improve.

"We're a new team that's getting better every day," said Cecere a right fielder batting .329 with six doubles, seven homers and 20 RBIs in 25 games. "The new coaching staff is phenomenal with how much they push us on a daily basis to make us better. From that standpoint, it's been great."

Cecere went 3-for-5 with a homer and four RBIs in a 12-8 loss at Illinois Saturday. He smacked two homers in three games against the Fighting Illini.

Norris moved back to his traditional shortstop position after starting 41 games at third base for the Nittany Lions in 2023. He is batting .261 with five doubles, five homers and 21 RBIs.

"I played shortstop in high school and all of my years growing up," Norris said.

"When I was at Duke, I was playing shortstop. It's been good and it's been comfortable to move back to shortstop.

"Last season when I got here, Jay Harry had played shortstop for three years. They kept him there and moved me to third base. I think we played well together on the left side."

Harry is playing in the Minnesota Twins organization this season after being selected in the sixth round of 2023's Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Cecere also has adapted while batting anywhere from the second through fifth spots in the Nittany Lions lineup.

"It's still the same game," said Cecere, who played in the College World Series Bracket 2 championship with Wake Forest in 2023. "It's neat to see new places. We went to Illinois last weekend. We get to travel to the Midwest a little bit. It's good to experience new places and new environments."

Both Cecere and Norris appreciate how much their respective families' travel time has been reduced while driving approximately two hours to home games instead of trekking to North Carolina.

"Coming to Penn State has been a really good choice for me," Cecere said. "The stadium is beautiful. The State College Spikes play there. We just put in $20 million in renovations that are still going on.

"There will be an upgrade to indoor facilities. They just made a brand-new field, a brand-new scoreboard.

"They've made a huge commitment to baseball, and with the staff they've hired, I know they'll be continually good year in and year out pretty soon."

The Nittany Lions' new coaching staff made an impression.

"It's been good. A lot of new faces on the staff and on the team," Norris said. "We've been getting along great and playing well together.

"We're getting to the heart of our Big Ten schedule. We'll put things together and hopefully have a run."

Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.