From ice to diamond
Reivers' Johnson relishing baseball career after hockey beginning
Breathe, just breathe. Don’t look at the crowd. The gigantic Alpine Bank Junior College World Series crowd. More than 8,600 pairs of eyeballs staring at him, watching his every move, twitch and breath. Even a drone floating around Suplizio Field was eyeballing the big pitcher.
Then Sean Johnson plunked the first batter of the game with his very first pitch.
Breathe, dang it!
“I hit him, I walked to the back of the mound, and I said, ‘Where am I? Find myself and make some pitches,’ ” Johnson said.
That’s what he did, and then he breathed a big sigh of relief.
Iowa Western found itself the proverbial diamond in the rough in Johnson. But it wasn’t like a lot of teams were looking at him. Not a lot of baseball teams.
Johnson is a hockey player playing baseball, he proudly says with a grin.
His family moved to Durango when he was 5 years old, and he started playing hockey, and he was good.
When he got to high school, he attended a prep school in Colorado Springs, so he could continue playing hockey.
When his junior year rolled around, he discovered baseball and liked the view from the mound.
There was another factor that pulled Johnson away from hockey and into baseball.
“I think I grew 11 to 12 inches in high school,” he said.
He sprouted to a lanky 6-foot-7 and 185 pounds. That’s not the kind of body that suits ice hockey real well. Now 205 pounds, Johnson still considers himself a hockey player playing baseball.
He glances at his coach, Marc Rardin, and grins, the kind of grin he flashed after smashing an opponent into the boards as defenseman on the ice.
“Baseball is the most boring sport in the world compared to hockey,” Johnson said, letting his grin linger.
He realized that maybe baseball was the best sport for his future as his skills improved.
He played on a summer-league team in Texas, and his velocity started to pop. From about 83 miles per hour in high school to now, hitting 91 mph at Suplizio Field on Wednesday night.
When it came to college, he still had a choice between hockey and baseball.
His ultimate goal was to play at the NCAA Division I level, but he knew he’d have start at the lower level first with either sport.
To play Division I hockey, he likely had to hone his skills full time at the junior level. Then maybe, just maybe he’d get a Division I scholarship and get back into school.
“With how much a college degree is worth these days, that’s the last thing I wanted to do,” he said.
After two seasons with Iowa Western, he’s now ready to move on to a Division I baseball program at the University of Mississippi.
Johnson thought about following in his dad’s career path and becoming a doctor, but the rigors of baseball combined with academics made him rethink his future. He’s now switched his major to business and would like to get into coaching. Baseball coaching.
But Ole Miss and a tall man’s business suit are in the future. For Johnson, Wednesday night will remain ingrained in his memory for a long time.
He threw a five-inning shutout to help push the Reivers one win closer to another JUCO World Series title.
He smiles when he talks about the huge crowd, the 10-0 win, every pitch and the splendid memory of pitching in the World Series.
It took a while, but once he settled down, Johnson was as cool as the downside of the puck.
“I think my heart was about 100 miles an hour, my hands were shaking, the last thing I wanted to do was look up in the crowd and see everyone staring at me,” he said.
Not too boring at all.
When asked if he ever attended or dreamed of playing in the JUCO World Series when he was a kid, Johnson flashed his hockey cocky grin.
“I was a hockey player growing up, so I never even knew what the JUCO World Series was,” he said.
He now knows all about JUCO, and he’s having the time of his life.
Not bad for a hockey player playing baseball.