Sept. 8, 2010
Johnson's year filled with school, family, baseball
By David Boyce
Coach Johnson at a glance:
- Native of Sawyer, N.D.
- Played two seasons in the Northern League for the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks and the Allentown Ambassadors and one season with the Washington Wild Things in the Frontier League as a catcher ... finished his career as a relief pitcher for the St. Joseph Blacksnakes of the American Association.
- Currently pursuing his doctorate as a faculty member for Northwest's Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance Department
- Hired as a full-time assistant baseball coach prior to Northwest's 2005 season
- 68-35 in two seasons as head coach of the St. Joseph Mustangs
A perfect summer day is easy for Matt Johnson to describe. The feeling of it is a little more difficult.
Johnson, who is entering his eighth year as professor in physical education at Northwest Missouri State, has spent his last two summers managing the St. Joseph Mustangs.
The Mustangs completed their second season of collegiate summer baseball in the MINK League and it was extremely successful. They tied for first with the Chillicothe Mudcats in the North Division with a 26-15 record.
St. Joseph made it to the 42-team NBC World Series in Wichita, Kan., took fourth place and concluded its season with a glowing 40-19 record.
All those accomplishments are quite impressive for an organization still so young.
"It is a real blast when you can do everything from scratch and do things the way you want to do it," Johnson said. "I've been very blessed with our owner. He gives us all the resources to take the team to the next level and to recruit the players we need to come here."
But the best part for Johnson is just being at Welch Stadium on those hot summer days and taking in everything that goes with baseball.
Although it's amateur baseball, the Mustangs are as close to professional baseball as you can get. Wood bats are used. Players arrive around 1:30 p.m., take batting practice at 2 p.m. The pitchers go through their drills.
A few hours later, the lights come on and it's game time.
Much of the time last summer, Johnson brought his 5-year-old son, Jase, to the ballpark.
A dad and his son at the ballpark is as much a part of the American fabric as anything.
"It is really hard to describe the feeling when you get to take your kid to the ballpark and he gets to meet players all around the country," Johnson said.
Johnson is proud of the camaraderie that developed with all his players during the season.
Part of the roster was composed of players from Northwest Missouri State and Missouri Western. It's one of the reasons why the Mustangs averaged around 2,000 fans at Phil Welch Stadium in downtown St. Joseph.
"The first year we averaged 1,800. Our biggest crowd was 4,800 fans," Johnson said. "We ranked seventh in the country for drawing in collegiate baseball and that includes the Cape Code League. We were head and shoulders above anybody else in our league.
"The city of St. Joseph loves baseball. I think it is something different than they are used to. They had a professional team a few years ago."
Perhaps the fans enjoy watching a group of players who are truly pulling for each other in order to win games.
Johnson was amazed at how strong the team chemistry was for a team that pulled players from as far away as California and Rhode Island.
The Mustangs drew players from 10 different states.
One of the main things Johnson and his coaching staff is trying to do is get the players exposure to professional scouts.
Johnson played professionally for four years as a catcher and pitcher in an Independent League. He enjoyed the experience. He hopes he can help others reach the professional ranks.
"A few scouts come to our games," he said. "We hope they get picked up. We also expose some of our players to the Midwest. Some of them are not from the Midwest. They get to see what baseball is like here."
Johnson is looking forward to what year three will bring for the Mustangs.
But he has now transitioned back into professor Johnson. He is focused on two things the next nine months: teaching students and working on his PHD in philosophy.
His year-round schedule is perfect.
"I have a 9-month contract here where I can teach and take the next 3 months and coach and then start the cycle all over again," he said. "I get to spend time with my family in the fall and the spring and play baseball when it supposed to be nice and warm."
Baseball is never far from Johnson's mind, but his concern now is teaching, perhaps helping to shape a future coach.
Many of the students who take his physical education class want to coach one day.
"I tell them to be themselves, the personality they are and who they are," he said. "You don't want to be somebody false and projecting that to their players.
"And the second thing I tell them is to take an interest in your players, not only what they do on the field, but off the field."
Teaching brings just as much happiness to Johnson as coaching baseball.
"I enjoy meeting the kids," he said. "You see them come in as freshmen and then you see them develop into teachers. A few years down the road they come back and say they are working here and doing this. It is kind of neat."
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