Padres Prospect Interview: Craig Johnson

It started out as he had hoped. He began the season with the Eugene Emeralds of the Northwest League. After getting picked in the 19th round out of Sacramento State, a division of the University of California, he played in 16 games for the Ems and batted .263 before getting demoted to Peoria. Surprised? You bet Craig Johnson was.

"It was a surprise. I didn't see it coming at all. At the time I was sent down I was feeling pretty comfortable, seeing the ball well and I was hitting all right (in Eugene)," Johnson said. "Everything seemed to be falling for me. I just felt good but that is just the way it worked out."

Halfway through the 16 game stint he was hitting .111. Then the bat came around. He went on an 8-for-18 spurt that jolted him up to .278. All four of his doubles came during that six game stretch. He also scored nine runs during that time.

He was swinging the bat well. But after a pinch hit appearance on July 10, Craig Johnson was headed back to Peoria – where it all began.

After the initial shock wore off, Johnson realized he was needed in Peoria. He also knew he was still a new recruit and had to pay his dues. It wasn't meant to be a slight towards him at all.

"There were some injuries at the time – guys were hurt down in Peoria and there were a lot of two and three year guys up (in Fort Wayne)," Johnson said. "It is just the way it worked out.

"I try to look for the positive. Although I was hitting almost .400 (for the month), I was still only playing once every three days. I wasn't getting in the lineup everyday so the fact that I got to go down to Peoria and play everyday. You have to look for the positives. Sure I was disappointed but you take it in stride and it worked out all right."

The difference between Eugene and Peoria -- the heat.

"It was hot," Johnson said. "I guess compared to here it had its ups and downs. It was hot as can be. But we didn't have to make any long road trips. The furthest we would go was half hour, 40 minutes up the road. The fact that I was playing everyday was ok. Peoria is an all right place. We got to play in some nice parks. Peoria wasn't that bad. Outside the heat it wasn't that bad."

While Johnson was in Peoria, Phil Nevin passed through.

Besides the instruction and coaching staff in place at the Padres Peoria complex, the players also get to see some of the guys from the Major League squad and others who are in the middle of their climb through the organization.

It puts the game in perspective. Nevin may have inspired some awe amongst the players but after a while the first year professionals realize they are not so different at all. Just take whatever knowledge they impart and commit it to memory.

"It is just neat because you hear about those guys and don't really picture yourself playing with these guys or being in the same league with them on that level," Johnson reflected. "It is kind of interesting to see those guys come through and to see them as every day people in the same situations that you are.

"You will be in the training room getting something done and they will walk into the same training room to get the same thing done.

"You are not really on the same level yet but you could be getting there. You are walking the same path they did. Walking down that same road that they did."

That path led back to Eugene for the left-handed hitting outfielder. He finished out the season with the Ems, playing in the final 11 games.

He hopes it is a path to bigger and better things. He has seen others walk the road and they have shown him the way. Be respectful. Take your lumps. Work hard. Be rewarded.

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