Ladies and Gentleman…..Elliot Johnson

I remember back in 2008 seeing him standing right next to Akinora Iwamura during the Rays Team Photo. Standing there was this Rays player who is now fighting for his professional life, not even an arm’s length to the right of me, but I really did not know the first thing about Elliot Tyler Johnson at that moment. Johnson was one of those Rays players who had begun the 2008 season teetering on the edge of the Rays 25-man roster and was within an injury or a recovery away from again falling into the Rays farm system…again.
  

You have already known that Johnson has spent only a total of 28 days with the Rays after making the 2008 Opening Day roster following a blistering Spring Training, combined with Rays utility man Ben Zobrist’s 15-day Disabled List visit with a fractured thumb, Johnson firmly earned his first shot up with the big club. But his time in the Majors was short lived as Johnson appeared in 7 Rays games before disappearing again back to Triple-A Durham, where he spent the rest of the 2008 season. 

I had forgotten how not even a month earlier, Johnson had made his Major League debut in the holy confines of Yankee Stadium on April5,2008 in only the Rays fifth game of the season when Johnson got his first chance to show what he could do for this Rays squad. Johnson was that night’s Designated Hitter, and was popped into the ninth slot in the lineup. And I somehow had forgotten that Johnson did get his first Major League hit off Andy Pettitte in Johnson’s second at bat, but maybe I brushed the moment away because Johnson then got picked-off first base by the crafty left-hander. Not the first guy to have that happen to him, but not also a great moment to show weakness in your talents. 

And before these same Rays teammates assembled on those risers back in 2008 for the official team photo, I could have talked with Johnson beforehand, but I missed a great opportunity to chat with a Rays player who is quickly seeing his time with these Rays ticking away with his every step into the batter’s box, or play amongst the dust of the Rays infield. That second hand on the Johnson’s Spring Training clock is beginning to run out on Johnson, as the team is currently focused on other players fighting out their battles this Spring. For when Johnson was sent down on April 27,2008 when the

Rays decided to bring up another infielder Andy Cannizaro, Johnson had only appeared in 5 Rays games and batted only .158 ( 3-19) , but in an instant, Johnson was gone again.
 

And it is a bit of a crime that I have not taken the time to learn more about this guy who won the 2008 Al Lopez Award as the top Rays rookie during Spring Training, or who scored 17 runs and led the Rays 2008 Spring Training team with a .417 batting average and got 23 hits while logging an astounding 117 Spring Training innings. And how most of us within the Rays Republic knew his name only after maintaining the 2008 Rays team mantra of always hustling, even during the Spring Training games, when Johnson came in hard on Yankees rookie catcher Francisco Cervelli on a play at Home Plate during the 9th inning of a Spring Training game against the Yankees at George Steinbrenner Field, and ended up fracturing Cervelli’s right wrist. He instantly became a villain to Yankee fans, and a reincarnation of Pete Rose to the Rays Republic. 

Instantly he became the Rays Spring Training poster child for taking advantage of his game opportunities, but Johnson also became an instant scapegoat from other teams’ who condemned his Spring Training hustle because it was only Spring, and it cost another team one of their bright stars so early into the season. Instantly people forgot the great feat Johnson performed on May 28,2004 when he blasted homers in his first three at bats while playing for the Charleston RiverDogs in their first three innings of play that night. Johnson had started his minor league career with only three total home runs before that night’s breakout performance against the Greensboro squad. As a side note, Johnson had homered in his last at bat the night before in Greenboro, effectively hitting homers in his last four at bats for the RiverDogs. 

And before B J Upton hit his cycle with the Rays in October 2009, Johnson was the last Rays organizational player to hit for the cycle when Johnson hit his cycle on September 15,2006 while he was playing with the Montgomery Biscuits. Johnson was one of those guys who has more than paid his dues within the Rays farm system, but we as fans, discarded him for some reason without a second thought. And during this 2010 Spring Training season when the Rays are seeking a versatile utility guy who can play multiple positions, Johnson might be finally entering into his final sunset with the Rays.


Johnson no longer has any minor league options left in 2010, and Johnson could effectively be gone either by the Rays placing him on waivers, or Johnson could be dealt in a late Spring trade ,and gone from the Rays for good. And even with only two games down in the 2010 Rays Spring Training schedule, Johnson went 1 for 2 today with a triple and scored on a single by outfielder Matt Joyce in the bottom of the ninth inning to defeat the Baltimore Orioles 6-5 today in Port Charlotte, Florida. Johnson is still trying to get his name into the Rays organization’s minds this Spring, and hopefully get another chance to show he belongs at the Major League level.

I do not think I am alone here within the Rays Republic in not taking the time, or the energy to chat it up with Johnson along the Rays sidelines this Spring. And I am totally guilty of not taking advantage of this opportunity in the past, almost forgetting at times that Johnson was even here for Spring Training. Johnson is like so many guys among every Major League Baseball Spring roster who is not invisible, or even unapproachable, but might be caught in that middle ground of players that we always think will be a part of our teams. He always seems to do enough to stay on long into the Spring Training schedule, and we feel they might make that leap again, and you don’t give it a second thought that players like Johnson can be gone in an instant.

And you maybe would not even have recognized Johnson out and about within the Port Charlotte community, or even up in Durham, North Carolina where he still makes his home during the off season. Or that Johnson has conducted local baseball camps for the last three off seasons for the kids and teens of the Durham community, where Johnson also instructs students in one-on-one baseball lessons. Or that Johnson comes from the community of Thatcher, Arizona, which was the backdrop of the Albert Brook’s movie “Lost in America”. Johnson is simply one of those guys who has fallen through our mind’s cracks and might be getting his last chance in 2010, to make this Rays team soon.


For some reason, baseball fans sometimes seem to get a bit of tunnel vision during Spring Training where we funnel our attentions towards our team’s stars and the aspiring prospects, and we instantly forget the players like Johnson, who have been there for so long trying to grab a hold of a chance to get back to the Major League level. And Johnson has been with the Rays since the team signed him as a non-drafted free agent back in 2002. So it is not like he just rode into this Spring into his first run with the Rays franchise this Spring.
 

Johnson has been here so long that some of us, myself included, have made him a bit invisible to ourselves over the last few seasons. And that is a crying shame because this is the type of guy we should be cheering for ,and wanting to see make this 2010 Rays club. And Johnson is not alone on this squad in that manner. People forgot a bit about another long-time Rays farm hand Justin Ruggiano. But you can bet that on Sunday, when I hit BrightHouse Field for the Rays versus Phillies game in Clearwater, I am going to try and call over Johnson and wish him the best this Spring.

Finally, I am going to try and get a chance as a Rays fan to get to know Johnson before he might be gone. And maybe, just maybe, I could then call him over again on April 6th ,before the Rays take on these same Orioles in the Rays Home Opener, and Johnson would be smiling ear-to-ear while still sporting that # 47 jersey…. just like today.

 

6 Comments

Atta’boy! There is still time to correct your self declared oversight. Somehow I know when you and ETJ meet you’ll more than make up for lost time and missed opportunity. If anyone is going to make this right, it’s you.
…and that Cervelli play?…outstanding! They were chewing on that all month up here that spring. This is quietly developing into a great rivalry. I’ve defintiely noticed.
http://thebrooklyntrolleyblogger.mlblogs.com/

Brooklyn,
During the game today Michael Kay was bringing up that play when ever Elliot Johnson came to the plate, or made a play in the field.
I will get a chance Sunday, or maybe even Saturday during the Red Sox game in Port Charlotte.
I am not sure I will make up for lost time, but I will let him know I have read his past feats and they have impressed me.
But we do forget some of the guys who sweat it out during the Spring….like ETJ.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

One to many Johnsons on the team… actually Elliot J played pretty good today against the Yankees, I think he went 2 for 3 with a run scored, yes I know most everyone was scoring, but I think your right if he doesn’t get a look in this season he could be gone soon…
~peter
Outside the Phillies Looking In
http://devilabrit.mlblogs.com

Peter,
What really sucks for Johnson is the great start by Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac, who are running 1-2 in the race for a utility/2B spot on the roster.
Johnson played in Japan in 2009, and might actually be on his way back there if something good doesn’t happen between now and April 3rd…

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

Wonderful writeup on Elliot’s, what most think, last chance of making the Ray’s roster. I have gotten to know Elliot, somewhat, through a baseball mom’s eyes. My son, Nick, started lessons with Elliot in 10/2007 in Durham, NC. We finished up our third year of lessons 2/2010. Elliot is still a very young man and should be on a MLB roster somewhere. But, I think Elliot’s even greater gift is his ability to teach. He has amazed me. Nick is just barely 14 years old. He is the baby when compared to his teammates. He has that late fall birthday. His baseball buddies are all 15 and have their learner’s permit. Nick hasn’t even taken Driver’s Ed yet. What’s my point? Nick made his HS Varsity baseball team, as the starting SS. In his first season game, he batted in the only two runs his team scored. Elliot has worked primarily on Nick’s hitting. Nick hit a fastball thrown by a senior who throw 91mph fastballs. This was one of the 2 RBIs credited to Nick. There were very few hits that night. We owe this ability to God as Nick has some natural ability, but to be able to hit a 90mph fastball consistently is something he learned from Elliot Johnson. At tonight’s HS baseball game, Nick’s team defeated South Durham HS. The catcher from that team referred to Nick as the “boy scout SS” as he is so much smaller than his upperclassman. So, Rays Renegade, please do talk to Elliot. Tell him he is special! If the Rays don’t want him, we’ll gladly take him back in Durham, NC!

Debbie,
I have heard a few great things since I started this blog, but that right there is a testement to Elliot Johnson to really think long and hard at the coaching ranks when he is done playing.
I think realistically, he is not as far on the Rays radar as everyone else might like him to be with Reid Brignac and sean Rodriguez scorching up the scoreboard recently.
But I know he makes his off season home in Durham with wife, but even maybe getting through waivers and then a shot at Durham might be slim.
Not because he is not talented, but one of the other 29 MLB clubs would snap him up in a heartbeat if he is optioned through waivers.
Johnson actually needs something to happen like what happened to “stalled in the pipeline” pitcher Mitch Talbot when he got traded to Cleveland for new Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach.
I know the guy can play, and I loved your story about your son and the way Johnson has helped shape him into someone who’s name we might all call out in the future.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

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