Why Not? Johnson Has Own Major League Dreams
Kingsville native Steve Johnson shows promise in Baltimore's farm system.
It would come as no surprise if Steve Johnson's parents pushed him to play baseball.
After all, his father, Dave Johnson, who grew up in Middle River's Maple Crest, pitched in the Major Leagues from 1987-93 for the Tigers, Orioles and Pirates and is now a broadcaster for MASN. But the younger Johnson, who pitched in high school at St. Paul's and grew up in Kingsville, said he made the decision on his own to pursue baseball as a career.
"Obviously when you are really little they put you in the game," Steve Johnson said of his parents. "But I was good at it. I just loved it so I kept playing and I expected them to sign me up every year. They just let me play.
"It turns out that is what I wanted to do," he added. "I played on a lot of good teams. They did not push me. It just happened. It has always been there for me and I have enjoyed it."
Steve Johnson, 23, was born in late August 1987, about three months after his father made his big league debut with the Tigers.
"I do not remember seeing him pitch. I wish I did. I have seen tapes," said Steve Johnson, a pitcher who began this season with the Orioles' Double-A farm club in Bowie. "I remember cheering for Cecil Fielder at Detroit and when they took out home plate at Memorial Stadium before construction began at Camden Yards."
Dave Johnson, 51, won 13 games for the Orioles in 1990 and was part of the Why Not? team in 1989 that came close to winning a division title. Before this season, Dave Johnson told Patch he helped his son make a change in his delivery.
"He was bringing his right arm too far back in his delivery, towards first base," said Dave Johnson, who added the right arm should go toward second base. "In spring training he was very erratic. But in the last few starts he has pitched well."
Steve Johnson gave up three hits and no runs in seven innings in a win at home for the Baysox on May 20 against Erie. In his first seven starts this year for Bowie he was 3-1 with an ERA of 1.98 and had allowed just 30 hits and 12 walks with 41 strikeouts in 41 innings. Opponents are hitting just .204 against him.
In a win on Thursday at Altoona, he pitched six innings, fanned seven and allowed just five hits and one run and did not allow a walk for the first time this season for the Baysox. He was slated to start at home on Tuesday against Richmond.
Steve Johnson can learn a lot from his father, who began his minor league career at a late age.
"He came into the minors when he was 22. He did not get there [to the majors] until he was 27," Steve Johnson said. "You have a lot of time. You have to fine-tune some things. He said there is plenty of time. He said it can happen."
The right-handed starter was with Bowie all of last season -- so was he disappointed to return to the Baysox?
"It all comes down to how you play," Steve Johnson said. "That is how you should take it. You should not expect to move up just because you have a so-so season. You have to be really good to move up to Triple-A and then the big leagues."
Does Johnson feel pressure playing so close to home?
"It is basically all positive for me. All of my friends have been able to come out and see me play. I know the area," said Johnson, who began his pro career in the Dodgers' farm system in 2005 after turning down a chance to play at Boston College. "It was nice getting away and seeing new places. It was nice to do that. There are way more pluses being on the East Coast, and being in Maryland."
So what does he need to do to move up the ladder?
"It comes down to throwing strikes and going after guys. If you do that you should be fine," Johnson said.
Gary Kendall, the Bowie manager, was also born in Baltimore, graduated from Sparrows Point High and has known the elder Johnson for years. Kendall said it is obvious that Steve Johnson grew up in a baseball family.
"I enjoy watching him pitch. He is easy to play behind. His tempo is good," Kendall said.
Earlier this season Johnson advanced to Triple-A for the first time when he was sent to the Norfolk Tides of the International League. It was a rough experience, as he was 0-1, with a 10.57 ERA in two starts and allowed 12 hits in less than eight innings before being sent back to Bowie.
"He seems to be throwing strikes and getting people out," said John Stockstill, the director of player development for the Orioles. "His numbers since he returned from Triple-A have been good."