BY DENNIS SILVA II | firstname.lastname@example.org
Every now and then, when he’s struggling with his swing or simply has an inquiry about the game of baseball, Katy High incoming senior Jack Johnson will call or text a legend.
Whether it’s Major League Baseball’s all-time hits leader Pete Rose, 10-time all-star Steve Garvey or Hall of Famer Tony Perez, it doesn’t matter. Greatness is at Johnson’s disposal, and he soaks it in whenever it arrives.
“The older you get, you make different adjustments. That’s something Pete’s shared with me,” Johnson said. “In high school, adjustments are game-to-game. In college, adjustments are at-bat-to-at-bat. In the pros, adjustments are swing-to-swing. It’s about being more and more meticulous and aware.”
Johnson has known Rose and Perez since 2016, when they helped with the start-up Hit King Baseball Academy, which was co-founded by Johnson’s father, Johnny. George Foster, a former MVP and World Series champion, was also a part of that group.
Foster attended Johnson’s junior high basketball games and gave him baseball lessons in the backyard. Johnson was introduced to Garvey when he attended Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez’s induction into the baseball Hall of Fame in the summer of 2017.
“All of these baseball guys are like a band of brothers, or a fraternity,” Johnny said. “Jack reaches out from time to time, they answer his calls or text him back to give his advice.”
Johnson is a baseball junkie, having fallen in love with the sport at 3 years old and now an all-district third baseman and catcher for the Tigers.
Before this high school baseball season was abruptly postponed and then canceled, Johnson was hitting .341 with eight RBIs and a .545 on-base percentage. He can hit from either side of the plate.
His true value, however, may come defensively. He has a POP time (the time taken from the moment the catcher receives a pitch to when the ball is thrown into the glove of the second baseman) of 1.88 seconds, which is well above-average, and his throws from home plate to first base are timed at 4.01 seconds, another above-average mark.
Johnson presumably will play in college at a high level. Dartmouth, Lafayette College, East Carolina, Troy, Purdue and West Virginia have all been in close contact with him.
“Baseball is natural. It’s fun,” Johnson said. “Some kids play video games, I played baseball. It’s how I relax and have fun. I love to compete and I love to win and I hate losing.”
Johnson gets his competitiveness from Johnny’s late mother, “grandma Johnson.”
“If it was making the best biscuits, if it was beating family members in Scrabble … she was such a great influence,” Johnson said. “She made it to every one of my baseball games, loved watching me play, and she just fueled me to play faster and harder.”
Johnson already has an impressive resume in the sport.
He hit 22 home runs for his 12U state championship team. He finished second in the “King of Swat” youth Home Run Derby contest in Cooperstown, New York. At 13, he was a Latin America Team USA member.
“He’s a player,” Rose said of Johnson when he coached him on the Hit King Academy youth team in 2016. “He hits from both sides of the plate, handles himself behind home plate.”
That was all before high school.
Johnson made the Tigers’ varsity team as a freshman in 2018—no easy feat considering the program’s prowess in Region III-6A baseball—and has maintained an upward progress in his career, leaning on Rose whenever necessary.
Not surprisingly, Rose has been a particularly significant influence in Johnson’s hitting. Johnson said Rose taught him six ways to approach an at-bat: move up closer to the pitcher, move back towards the umpire, move up closer to the plate, move away from the plate, choke up on the bat, choke back down on the bat.
Their relationship has grown to where Johnson considers Rose a close friend. Rose affectionately refers to Johnson as “My boy Jackie.”
“He’s a really nice guy,” Johnson said. “Super goofy, really funny. I enjoy talking to him.”
Johnson has taken advantage of this global pandemic to hone his craft at home, where he has a hitting cage in the backyard. He lifts weights on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He runs sprints every day. He also has a throwing program he attends to consistently each week.
“I’ve had a lot more time and opportunity to better myself than through a normal school day,” Johnson said. “Since everything is shut down, it’s been just family reflection and getting better on my own time. I’ve been hitting every day, working out every day, doing my sprints and staying ready. That’s my silver lining. You can’t really focus on the bad stuff.”
It’s enough to distract him from an unfortunate situation. Katy High was 12-3-2 when the season was initially postponed in March and then canceled in April because of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. The Tigers were complete with a deep, veteran roster of nine returning starters from last year’s area playoff finalist and believed a deep postseason run was in the cards this spring.
“Our team chemistry could have never been any better than it was this year,” Johnson said. “That’s what was really heartbreaking about losing the season, because this was the closest group of guys we’ve ever had in a long time. We were all locked in, we bought into the program, we were all for each other. No matter who got the glory, we were all each other’s biggest fan, and that’s the biggest thing when it comes to high school baseball.”