Diehard Q&A: Jay Johnson

Jay Johnson's season is over after he ruptured his Achilles tendon Monday, but even as he steeled himself for the long rehab ahead, he couldn't help but smile at recalling the events of April 16, when he not only became the first Sea Dogs position player to earn a victory as a pitcher but also drove in the winning run in the 17th inning to lift the Sea Dogs past Connecticut, 8-7.

Johnson, who was scheduled to undergo surgery today, spoke to Diehard Tuesday about the memorable evening he enjoyed six nights prior.

So how did you end up becoming the position player Arnie Beyeler turned to in the 16th inning?

Jay Johnson: Last year Arnie asked me if I could throw. And I said yeah, I pitched a year in college at Xavier. And he's like, well, if we just need someone to get in there, can you throw strikes? So I went out there last year [against Connecticut July 28] and kind of got beat around throwing fastballs [Johnson gave up one run on two hits and one walk in a 15-0 loss]. I didn't have anything off-speed to throw to get any outs. So this year, Arnie [said] ‘Hey, you're used to this, you know you can throw.' So I went out and warmed up before the top of the 15th. And [Daniel] Haigwood went back out for the 15th, we didn't score in the [bottom of the] 15th. Arnie said if we didn't score, you were in. I went in and pitched the 16th throwing sidearm fastballs and knuckleballs. That's all I throw. [laughs]

You had to feel pretty good about the results: Two strikeouts in the 16th and an inning-ending double play to get out of a bases-loaded jam in the 17th.

Jay Johnson: I was feeling pretty good about myself. Things started out a little bit rougher in the 17th—a double down the line, bases loaded with one out—but I got the ground ball on a knuckleball.

Did you realize you were due to bat in the bottom of the 17th and did you think at all about winning the game with your bat as well as your arm?

Jay Johnson: I was really excited about pitching, just having a good time, especially since things were going well pitching. And then I was like ‘I've got to hit too? What's going on?' [laughs]. Just having fun with it. And they had a position player come in and pitch. [Jeff Corsaletti] led off with a walk and then he tries to throw me a curveball and it just kind of hung there and I hit it down the right field line and Jeff did a good job of wheeling it in from first.

Did you immediately realize the uniqueness of your feat?

Jay Johnson: When it's going on, you don't realize what's going on. Then all of a sudden good things start to happen. It's like, wow. It happens before you even have time to think about it and look back on it. It's really cool to think about. But while it's happening, it's just something you don't really think about. Sure, it's cool [laughs]. I'd rather hit, like, four home runs in a game, but it was a fun experience. It was a lot of fun. As I kept telling everybody, it was some of the most fun I've ever had on a baseball field and it helped us win a game. So heck, it's good.

How much pride to you take in your versatility?

Jay Johnson: That's always something I've really been proud of—be versatile, play all three outfield positions, be able to hit anywhere in the lineup. I really try to be [that] kind of guy. I don't have the skills that stand out more than the rest. I do everything pretty well, and to have that pitching aspect of it thrown in there a little bit, I think that's good. All the guys that I play with always kid around with me. I'm a good athlete, I play golf well and shoot a basketball well and do all those things, but just to be an all-around baseball player is something I've been working on since day one in 2005 when I got drafted. But to pitch, I think, adds to it. Kind of unique.

So how much longer would you have pitched against Connecticut?

Jay Johnson: If we didn't score in the 17th, I was out there for one more. If we didn't score there, it was kind of a dicey situation [laughs].

Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752.

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