A Hot Summer For Turk: San Francisco’s Johnson Blossoms In Harrisonburg

07/22/2008 – Daily News Record

Written By Dustin Dopirak Daily News Record HARRISONBURG – Between games of Monday night’s quasi-doubleheader, Drew Johnson was the definition of the term "unaffected," sitting on a chair just outside the dugout at Memorial Stadium and singing along as the public address system blared Bryan Adams’ "Summer of ’69." It was fitting because Johnson might be the only member of the Harrisonburg Turks who could someday be able to refer to the summer of 2008 as the best days of his life. The bad luck that has cursed this squad for most of the season apparently decided to spare the outfielder from the University of San Francisco, and Monday night was another example. After flying out in his first at-bat of the game Sunday night – when a problem with a light fixture forced the game to be suspended after two innings until Monday – Johnson had hits in his next three at-bats, finishing 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI. That and a strong performance by left-hander Chris Chapman led the Turks to a 4-3 win over the Fauquier Gators, helping them improve to 15-22 and keeping them in line for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Valley Baseball League playoffs. "It’s hard to explain," Johnson said after the first game. "You go through your ups and your downs. Individually, it’s been a pretty good summer for me, but I think a lot of it’s luck." The rest of the Turks certainly wish he could spread it around. His performance Monday boosted his average to .349, almost 80 points ahead of the Turk with the second-best mark, Troy outfielder Michael Precise (.270.). It also put him more than 120 points ahead of Harrisonburg’s anemic team average of .226. Johnson also leads the team in slugging percentage (.500) and on-base percentage (.382). His four home runs rank third on the team behind third baseman Landon Camp (six) and Precise (five), and his 16 RBIs trail only Precise’s 25. "He’s been the guy that’s been keeping us in a lot of ballgames," Turks owner/coach Bob Wease said. "He’s been our best hitter so far this year." Wease had no reason to expect that, however, considering Johnson’s college performance to date. Until this summer, it was he, not his teammates, who was always struggling at the plate. Johnson began his career at Nevada, carrying the pressure of being somewhat of a hometown folk hero. In his senior year at Reno High School, he led the team to a state title after suffering a broken jaw by being hit in the face with a throw earlier in the season. As a college freshman, however, he went 1-for-20, getting his only hit of the year on the season’s last day. His sophomore campaign was better, but still rough, as he batted .203. Johnson saw his competition for playing time at Nevada and realized he’d never get much playing time, so he transferred to San Francisco in 2006, but he had to sit out the 2007 baseball season when he dislocated his left shoulder. As a redshirt junior for the Dons in 2008, he got more playing time than ever before, but was still a part-timer, and struggled to a .232 average with just 13 RBIs. San Francisco’s coaching staff, however, believed the 6-foot-3, 195-pounder was primed for big things. Coach Nino Giarratano was out of the country and not available for comment Monday, according to a spokesman at USF, but in April he told the Reno Gazette-Journal: "He’s close. I think he’s really close to having a breakout year." This summer has been exactly that. Johnson is hitting more than 100 points higher with a wooden bat then he ever did with metal. The key, Johnson said, is security. With no one on the team pushing him, he’s gone into every game knowing he’d be in it. "It’s nice to be able to make adjustments and still know that you’re going to be in the lineup on a consistent basis," Johnson said. "At school, I didn’t have that luxury. If I was hitting, I’d play; if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t play. It’s kind of nice to have enough at-bats to be able to work through your problems." Not that there have been many problems to speak of. In fact, his Harrisonburg teammates are so impressed by his approach that they’re stunned he’s ever struggled. "He’s a tremendous athlete," said Turks shortstop Mark Brooks. "He’s just kind of a natural hitter. He has an awesome approach. He’s able to hit the ball to all fields. I think that’s the main reason why he’s been so successful. He stays inside the ball so well, he reminds me of Derek Jeter. … It’s very rare to see somebody that athletic not have much success playing Division I baseball. I wouldn’t be surprised for him to have an amazing year this year and get drafted." Which would make the spring and summer of ’09 the best days of his life. Fauquier 001 010 010 – 3 4 1 Harrisonburg 003 001 00x – 4 10 0 Dennick, Hubbard (6) and Petitti; Chapman, Wood (8) and Baez. W-Chapman (3-1). L-Dennick (2-3). S-Wood (3). GAME TWO of DOUBLEHEADER: Fauquier 6, Harrisonburg 2 Auburn right-heander Jon Luke Jacobs struck out eight batters in three innings of scoreless relief as Fauquier beat Harrisonburg 6-2 in a seven-inning Valley League baseball game Monday, the nightcap of the doubleheader. The Gators improved to 23-15; the Turks fell to 15-23 Fauquier 120 001 2 – 6 7 1 Harrisonburg 110 000 0 – 2 6 2 Blanton, Jacobs (5) and Pierce; Parker, Rule (7) and baez. W- Blanton (3-0) L-Parker (2-4) S- Jacobs (1) HR -H Camp (6)