With the PCL championship series set to begin tonight, the Salt Lake Bees will try to bring home the franchise's first PCL title. In the eyes of manager Keith Johnson, his team is ready for the challenge. "I don't care what team you are, you want to get yourself into position to win a league championship. And we're there," Johnson said. "The guys are excited to go out there and compete, go to battle, and play for each other. These guys are chomping at the bit to face our competition."
That competition, of course, is the Omaha Storm Chasers, a team that snuck into the playoffs despite having a sub-.500 record. Once in the playoffs, they promptly swept out the Oklahoma City RedHawks, owners of the PCL's best regular season record in 2013. When Johnson looks at the Storm Chasers, he sees a dangerous team that should not be underestimated. "The records mean nothing. They fought their way into the playoffs," Johnson said of his opponent. "They're a steady ball club, and that's a tribute to (Omaha manager) Mike Jirschele. He's done a great job with his team. We're going to have to play our best baseball."
Both teams will enter the series missing some of the key components that helped them reach the championship round, but as far as Johnson can see, that is just part of managing in the minors. "The roster at this level is something to navigate through, but there's been a core group of guys here for the duration that are key cogs in what we're trying to do," Johnson said. What has made his job easier in the midst of all of the transition has been the presence of a solid group of veterans in the clubhouse. He singled out a quartet of the more veteran Bees for their clubhouse presence. "Efren Navarro, and Luke Carlin, and [Roberto], and Chad Cordero kind of have a calming influence on the other guys coming in."
No calming influence may be more important to the Bees than Johnson himself, as this won't be his first appearance in the PCL Championship Series. The last time the franchise competed for a PCL title was 2002, and Johnson was the starting third baseman for that squad. While he can see some of the parallels between playing for the title and managing the competing team, he sees this team in its own individual light. "It's kind of similar, but it's different. Every team and year is its own journey and adventure," he said, pointing out that this team is especially unique for how it was composed. "It's a nice mix of all different types of players. Guys from independent leagues, and prospects, and some former big leaguers - it's a little bit of everything."
With the long season rapidly approaching its conclusion, Johnson took a moment to look back fondly at the journey that brought the team to the cusp of the PCL title. "It's been a fun team. It's been a really, really fun year," he said. However, the journey isn't over yet, and the Bees, and their manager, will look to take that last step starting tonight in Omaha. "I'm looking forward to it," added Johnson. "Hopefully we'll play well enough where we're able to do that."