Making A Name For Himself
Respect the game. Some players might toss that phrase off as a trite baseball cliché, in the same book as take it one game at a time or give 110%. Josh Johnson, the newest member of the Syracuse Chiefs, isn’t one of those players. After talking to the 26-year old infielder on Monday, that was readily apparent.
“My dad was a big league ballplayer,” said Johnson, “a big inspiration in my development. He always told me to respect the game and hustle on and off the field. Nobody’s better than the game. This game’s going to continue for years beyond mine, so if I can leave my little mark on the game and inspire a young man to play the game as hard as Pete Rose inspired a young man to play the game respectfully, then that’s my ultimate goal.”
Charlie Hustle himself would be proud of the way Johnson’s gone about his business after two days in Syracuse. The switch-hitting infielder’s collected two hits and made a number of strong defensive plays – this after hitting .395 with seven extra-base hits in his first 11 games with Harrisburg this season. The jump from Double-A to Triple-A often overwhelms players – but Johnson doesn’t seem to be one of them.
“It’s the same game,” Johnson said when asked about the transition. “I’m going to stick with my same routine, nothing new. They’ve got to throw strikes. I’ve got to catch the ball. I’ve got to make my plays on defense. It’s the same game.”
On defense, Johnson, who’s listed at 5’11 and 170 pounds, has a bit of an unorthodox throwing motion. Some players, like Pawtucket’s Jose Iglesias, can field and throw a ground ball so smoothly that the ball never seems to touch their hands. Johnson is not one of those players. Think David Eckstein, who seems to put every ounce of strength he has and more into his throws, and you’ve got an estimation of Johnson’s play. And that’s the way he likes it.
“I like to throw the ball as hard as I can,” says Johnson. “I like to run the bases hard. I just try to do everything 100%. As long as I just continue to play my game, I’m a high energy guy, hustling on and off the field, respecting the game.”
Chiefs fans might see Johnson all over the field this season. He’s played five different positions in the minors – second base, third base, shortstop, center field, and left field. And his father, Larry Doby Johnson – yes, named after the American League’s first ever African-American player – was a major league catcher over parts of five seasons. So…does that mean the Chiefs could even have an emergency catcher on their hands?
“No,” says Johnson with a laugh. “Definitely not. My dad was a catcher and I see the wear and tear it has on those guys’ bodies. I don’t think I’ll be volunteering my services.”
Nor will he volunteer his services to pitch – unlike the other Josh Johnson, the Miami Marlins’ ace. It’s a silly comparison to bring up – yes, the two professional ballplayers share a name. They’re also about eight inches apart, play completely different positions, have a different skin color and have never played for the same organization. It seems outrageous that anyone would confuse the two, right? Would that ever really happen?
“All the time,” says a smiling Johnson. “(People) always, for some reason, believe that I’m a lighter-skinned, taller, hard-throwing righty. But I’m not too sure how they can confuse us. It happens all the time – they ask me to sign cards, and I sit there and I look and I see a guy flipping a ball up, looking with a mean face and a Marlins hat on.”
This Josh Johnson’s concerned with blazing his own path to the majors. Maybe he’ll get there and face his namesake one day in a division battle. But even if the Chiefs’ newest player doesn’t get there, it won’t be for a lack of trying – or a lack of respect. For his father, for his team – or for the game.
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