Growing up in Pleasant Grove, Alabama, Sky Sox starting pitcher, Alan Johnson began playing baseball at the young age of four. While coming into his own as a ball player he developed an admiration for two outstanding pitchers in Sandy Koufax and Greg Maddux. Not a bad duo of guys to look up to.
Johnson's baseball career has come a long way since his days as a four-year-old in Alabama. He pushed himself hard enough to play collegiately at Mississippi State University and used his time there as a launching pad to a professional career in the Colorado Rockies organization.
Johnson wasn't so sure he would get the shot to play professionally, however, as he went undrafted in the 2005 June draft.
"Draft day I was kind of expecting to go late. It was kind of funny because it was me and my roommate and we had both been told it was a possibility we could go mid to late rounds and we were just sitting there watching the computer and it didn't happen so we just said, 'well I guess it's about that time," Johnson explained. " Then we were packing up; ready to move out of our apartment and he gets a call later that evening, and I was like, 'well congratulations,' then I drove back home and the next day I got a call from a scout on the Rockies and he asked if I still wanted to play and I said, 'of course, yeah!"
Johnson is a very humble young man, even at 25-years-old he is still thrilled at the fact he gets to play baseball everyday for a living.
"That's all I was looking for; is the opportunity to continue playing baseball." Johnson said, "It's always been a dream to play professional baseball, but you never really think it's actually going to happen. I've been given the opportunity and I'm trying to take full advantage of it."
So far in his young career Johnson has been a workhorse. He has pitched a ton of innings the past couple of years. In 2008, he spent the entire season in Double-A Tulsa and led the club in starts (28) and innings pitched (175.2). His 175.2 innings pitched and 28 starts were both the second most by any pitcher in the Texas League that year. The story was no different the year before in Modesto where his 168.2 innings pitched were the third highest in the Cal League.
"I've been durable since the first year I've ever pitched," Johnson said, " It is something I take pride in because I don't want to miss a start. I like going deep into games and giving your team a chance to win."
Johnson has gotten off to a great start to the 2009 season for the Sky Sox. He is 3-0 with a 1.96 ERA and in his Triple-A debut, which was at home in Colorado Springs, tossed six scoreless innings and only allowed two hits. Thus far, left handed hitters are only hitting .135 against him compared to right-handed hitters, who are not doing much better, batting .192.
"This off-season I said I'm just going to go out there and have fun. I want to be committed to the pitches I'm throwing, but just go out there and have fun, because if you don't have fun you just kind of think about everything." Johnson reiterated.
Johnson doesn't get too fancy when on the mound. He admitted his favorite pitch to throw is his fastball, as it has been his bread and butter throughout his career.
"It's really been my money pitch," Johnson explained. "I can throw it anytime that I want to, it's just something I've kind of lived and died by."
Although it's still very early in the season, Johnson has not only impressed with his pitching, but even more so with his batting. As of his most recent outing, Johnson is batting an impressive .667 in two games with four hits, one being a double, four RBI and has a slugging percentage of .833. His four RBI are only three shy of tying the franchise record for RBI in a season by a pitcher which is held by two others, Jason Jennings and Jason Young. The interesting thing is Johnson has never had a professional season in which he was known for being a great hitter. He never had an at bat at Modesto and when in Tulsa he went 3-for-23.
"I didn't even hit in college, and in high school I hit around .340 or .350," Johnson said. "I've always enjoyed hitting, I took a few more cuts this off-season just kind of fooling around I guess, worked on my swing a little bit, and I guess it's paid off so far."
When looking ahead to the remainder of the season, Johnson feels the teams' camaraderie is the most important thing to its success.
"If the team doesn't get along you are not going to win," Johnson said, "There are a lot of guys that have plenty of talent but if your team is not gelled or they don't care about each other you're not going to win."
Explaining the solidarity among everyone on the Sky Sox, Johnson said, "Nobody here is really selfish, to me, everybody just kind of looks after each other and enjoys being around each other."
The camaraderie Johnson spoke of has the Sky Sox out to their best start in franchise history at 13-6, the last time they were 13-6 was 1992 when they won the Pacific Coast League championship.