ST. PETERSBURG — Derek Norris sat at a table in the Rays clubhouse Wednesday afternoon calmly playing on his phone, then taking his normal place behind the plate for the game against the White Sox.
But Norris is in the middle of mess with potentially serious ramifications as Major League Baseball is investigating allegations by former fiancee Kristen Eck that he "physically and emotionally abused" her.
Norris denied the claims in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times relayed by his agent, saying they "could not be further from the truth" and that "I have NEVER been physically or emotionally abusive towards her, or anyone else in my life."
But after reading of his denial, Eck posted a blog detailing an Oct. 20, 2015, incident where she alleged that Norris put her in "a choke hold" and grabbed her hair and arms at their Kansas home after she confronted him about talking on the phone with another woman after he had been drinking.
Eck — who remained in a relationship with Norris until June 2016 — told the Times via messaging she did not and does not plan to pursue criminal charges but is in the process of "corresponding with" MLB investigators to set up an interview. Under MLB's recently enhanced domestic violence policy, Norris, depending on the investigation's findings, could be suspended without pay.
Yet, as she also did in the blog post, Eck indicated she did not come forward to hurt Norris but to help other women who might be in similar or worse situations.
"He is a good person," she told the Times. "The light shed needs to be on how many women go through this, not in his character."
In her post on cravingthelight.com, Eck went further, saying she still had feelings for Norris — but wished she didn't — and didn't want to portray him badly.
"My intention is not (to) make the man I loved, and still have love in my heart for, look like a monster, because he isn't," she wrote.
"Life chewed him up and spit him out, just as it did to me. I am sure if his work, family, finance and stress situations were different, this would have been different.
"But they weren't, and I had words hurt me and his touch hurt me."
Norris, 28, signed with the Rays this spring after being released by Washington, getting a one-year, $1.2 million contract (plus $659,000 from the Nats as termination pay for his original $4.2 million deal). He is under their control through next season. Norris played previously for the A's and Padres.
His future with the team is in some question from a baseball perspective, as the Rays seemingly have to pick between him and Jesus Sucre as the backup when Wilson Ramos returns from a knee injury, potentially later this month.
The Rays plan to keep Norris on the active roster after learning of the investigation, and to let MLB officials determine the course of action.
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"I think we're basically out of it," manager Kevin Cash said. "We're going to let Major League Baseball handle it; obviously they do a good job of investigating and then we'll go from there."
Earlier, the team issued a statement, saying: "The Rays wholly support MLB's Domestic Violence policy. We take these allegations very seriously and will fully cooperate with the Commissioner's Office on this matter."
Four players have been suspended since MLB enacted a specific domestic violence policy in August 2015: Braves outfielder Hector Olivera for 82 games; Mets infielder Jose Reyes, 52; Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman, 30; Mets reliever Jeurys Familia, 15 games. Police were involved in each case; all but Chapman were arrested.
Norris declined comment at the Trop on Wednesday beyond his statement, which read in full:
"First, I want to be absolutely clear that abuse of any form, is completely unacceptable. Allegations regarding this issue are a very serious matter and should not be taken lightly under any circumstances. That being said, in this circumstance, the comments made by my ex-fiancee could not be further from the truth. I have NEVER been physically or emotionally abusive towards her, or anyone else in my life.
"I plan to go above and beyond to assist MLB with their investigation into this matter."
Eck first made the allegations in a post on her Instagram account, writing:
"I had beautiful moments with a man, and I fell in love with a sense of humor and authentic soul that I wanted to spend my life with. I also was physically and emotionally abused by this beautiful man. He gave me a lifestyle most people only dreamed of, but it came at a price."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @ TBTimes_Rays.