Meet your Chief: Josh Johnson Trying to Catch, not chase, Big League Dream his Dad did in 70s with Expos

Josh Johnson bats on Mother's Day in pink spikes for the Syracuse Chiefs. Johnson is trying to make it to the big leagues with the Nationals. His father played with the Expos in the 1970s. (Ben Meyers for Federalbaseball.com)

SYRACUSE | Josh Johnson claps his hands together when he speaks.

"I bring a lot of energy," Johnson said rubbing his palms.

He is baseball's version of Alka Seltzer at 26.

He is also trying to catch a big league dream with the same organization his father did in the 1970s.

Johnson doesn't come right out and say that he is a religious sort, and he doesn't force it on anyone. He is the first one out on the Alliance Bank Stadium grass before every Syracuse Chiefs home game so he can be by himself.

The middle infielder goes out to dead center field. Touches the fence and points to the sky. He brings up The Lord's name because he is thankful.

"Still breathing, got a uniform on, I can go on for days," the Triple-A infielder said. "Got all of my fingers, both of my eyes works, I can speak, I know two languages (somewhat), I like to thank the Lord for the blessings he has given me and then I like to get my legs loose. I want to be as mentally and physically prepared as I can be for the game every single day."

Effervescent and refreshing, he brings passion to a grinding game that can get mundane. Johnson makes over-the-shoulder catches, celebrates wins with pitchers with "air-fives," is a pest on the base paths, and gets upset with himself for not making the impossible plays deep in the hole at shortstop.

He claps bare hand and glove together on the field when the latter happens.

"I am a passionate guy. When I punch my glove that is just my way of saying, ‘Dad gum it, I didn't make the play.' I want to make every play," Johnson said.

After hitting .395 in 11 Double-A Harrisburg games he was called up to Syracuse in April.

In his first game with the Chiefs, his new club was down by one in the ninth when Johnson doubled.

He saw an opportunity to steal third on a ball in the dirt. He was thrown out pretty easily. It wasn't Double-A anymore.

He got up, dusted his chest and clapped his hands. Manager Tony Beasley gave him a pat on the shoulder.
Johnson felt bad. First day on the new job and he made a mistake. The Chiefs lost, but Johnson took his medicine and still talked to the media.

"I am going to continue to run on and off of the field, bust my butt down the line, if I pop up I am going to try and get to second base. That is part of my game," Johnson said. "If I am not true to myself then I won't be able to sleep at night."

Since that first game, Johnson has been in 32 more while batting .222 in Triple-A for the Washington Nationals - the organization formerly known as the Montreal Expos.

The Expos, are one of the teams that Johnson's father, Larry Doby Johnson, had two of his five cups of coffee with in the 70s. Larry Doby Johnson also played for the Indians and White Sox, but his son plays for the modern Expos.

"A big, big, big, part of my game come from my dad," Johnson repeated with a series of small claps. "I didn't get a chance to see him play, but I learned the fundamentals of the game: base running, fielding, hitting. Hustle on and off of the field."

Larry Doby Johnson was Joshua Rashaad Johnson's high school baseball coach in Tampa.

"He would always, always, always, preach to us to hustle on and off of the field," this time sliding his palms back and forth with a little smack in-between. "You don't have to have any skills to hustle. I owe a lot to my dad."

Dad taught him the "right" way to play the game. That has gotten him to Triple-A. More importantly, Larry Doby Johnson taught his son - they met for the first time on Jan. 11, 1986 - that the game is fun. That has sustained him.

"That is the only way to play the game, man," Johnson said clapping his hands together again. "If you aren't out there having fun then this game is going to eat you alive."

Johnson started having fun with Kansas City in 2004 when he drafted in the third round. He signed on with the Nationals in 2010.

"I really believe that I have the skills to play in the big leagues. You would be a fool to not believe in yourself. You would be a fool not to believe in yourself," he repeated with the hands moving.

"I need to catch my dream...not chase my dream."

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