High School Baseball

A friend of the greats, Tigers' Johnson to continue career at Youngstown State

By Dennis Silva II | Sports Editor
Posted 11/2/20

Every now and then, when he’s struggling with his swing or simply has an inquiry about the game of baseball, Katy High senior Jack Johnson will call or text a legend.

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High School Baseball

A friend of the greats, Tigers' Johnson to continue career at Youngstown State

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Every now and then, when he’s struggling with his swing or simply has an inquiry about the game of baseball, Katy High senior Jack Johnson will call or text a legend.

Whether it’s Major League Baseball’s all-time hits leader Pete Rose, 10-time all-star Steve Garvey or Hall of Famer Tony Perez, it doesn’t matter. Greatness is at Johnson’s disposal, and he soaks it in whenever it arrives.

“The older you get, you make different adjustments. That’s something Pete’s shared with me,” Johnson said. “In high school, adjustments are game-to-game. In college, adjustments are at-bat-to-at-bat. In the pros, adjustments are swing-to-swing. It’s about being more and more meticulous and aware.”

Johnson has known Rose and Perez since 2016, when they helped with the then-start-up Hit King Baseball Academy, which was co-founded by Johnson’s father, Johnny. George Foster, a former MVP and World Series champion, was also a part of that group.

Foster attended Johnson’s junior high basketball games and gave him baseball lessons in the backyard. Johnson was introduced to Garvey when he attended Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez’s induction into the baseball Hall of Fame in the summer of 2017.

“All of these baseball guys are like a band of brothers, or a fraternity,” Johnny said. “Jack reaches out from time to time, they answer his calls or text him back to give advice.”

Johnson is a baseball junkie, falling in love with the sport at 3 years old and now an all-district third baseman and catcher for the Tigers.

Before the 2020 high school baseball season was abruptly postponed and then canceled in the spring, Johnson hit .341 with eight RBIs and a .545 on-base percentage in 17 games. He can hit from either side of the plate.

His true value, however, may come defensively. He has a POP time (the time taken from the moment the catcher receives a pitch to when the ball is thrown into the glove of the second baseman) of 1.88 seconds, which is well above-average, and his throws from home plate to first base are timed at 4.01 seconds, another above-average mark.

Johnson’s all-around game drew the attention of Youngstown State coaches three months ago. On Oct. 15, he verbally committed.

“It’s been a 3-4-year process for me,” Johnson said. “For sure, it’s always been a dream school for me.”

Johnson visited Ohio often as a kid. His uncle used to live in Youngstown. The university is known for its top-10 engineering program, a field Johnson wants to study, and its affordability and NCAA Division I baseball program. It made for the ideal fit for Johnson, who began emailing Youngstown State coaches his freshman year.

Johnson was recruited as a catcher and utility player. He’s excited about his new home in “picturesque” Ohio. But priority No. 1 is his upcoming senior campaign as a Tiger. Johnson even chose to bypass competing in travel ball this fall to spend his time and effort with the Katy High training program.

Johnson said the COVID-19 global pandemic has brought the team closer together. There are plenty of chips on shoulders. A lot of players, some of the most talented on the Tigers, are getting overlooked in recruiting, Johnson said, because of all the dead periods for recruits during the pandemic.

Johnson said it’s “heartbreaking to not see guys fulfill their dreams.” But that has been a source of inspiration as well, knowing that they still have a senior season as Tigers to showcase their talents and, hopefully, determine their futures in the game.

“We’ve never been as collective as a team more, as far as single-minded in the same goal, and there’s a huge team unity this year,” Johnson said. “It’s been great.”

Johnson said the Tigers derive great motivation from last season’s abrupt end. The Tigers were 12-3-2 when the season was shut down.

“During the offseason, when school shut down and we couldn’t be with our team programs, it made you rely more on your friends and teammates,” Johnson said. “Nobody was going to tell me to get up and go lift weights or work out or run and hit and throw. You depended on your teammates to work out together, and that’s what we did.”

Johnson made the Tigers’ varsity team as a freshman in 2018—no easy feat considering the program’s prowess in Region III-6A baseball—and has maintained an upward progress in his career, leaning on Rose whenever necessary.

Not surprisingly, Rose has been a particularly significant influence in Johnson’s hitting. Johnson said Rose taught him six ways to approach an at-bat: move up closer to the pitcher, move back towards the umpire, move up closer to the plate, move away from the plate, choke up on the bat, choke back down on the bat.

Their relationship has grown to where Johnson considers Rose a close friend. Rose affectionately refers to Johnson as “My boy Jackie.”

“He’s a really nice guy,” Johnson said. “Super goofy, really funny. I enjoy talking to him.”

During the spring and summer, Johnson took advantage of the global pandemic to hone his craft at home, where he has a hitting cage in the backyard. He lifted weights on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He ran sprints every day. He also had a throwing program he attended to consistently each week.

“I want to see continued growth for myself,” Johnson said. “As a team, I want to win, and so do my teammates. I think we’re going to do a pretty darn good job of that this year.”

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