Before 2009: Jason Johnson was in his 17th professional season when he put on a Thunder uniform. I’m not recapping the first 16. I will tell you that he entered 2009 with a 56-100 record in 255 MLB games with the Pirates, Rays, Orioles, Tigers, Indians, Red Sox, Reds and Dodgers.
2009: Words cannot do justice to what 2009 must have been like for Jason Johnson. He signed with the Yankees in the off-season with the hopes that he could crack the big league roster out of camp, and ended up wondering if he’d be losing vision in one of his eyes. Johnson was diagnosed with retinal cancer during spring training, and that derailed any hopes he had of possibly putting on Yankee pinstripes.
Johnson started 2009 in Scranton, and eventually suffered a partially torn labrum in his pitching shoulder. He tried to rehab the injury without surgery, and part of that rehab involved a two-game stay with the Trenton Thunder.
In a sad example of foreshadowing, Johnson warmed up to Michael Jackson’s “Bad” prior to his only start at Waterfront Park. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what he was. He got rocked in his home appearance against Reading, and didn’t fare much better on the road against Erie. He ended up with an 0-2 record and 14.54 ERA with the Thunder before going back to Scranton and ultimately being released.
While Johnson, a then-35-year-old veteran of 255 Major League games, didn’t stick around to chat with the media after his poor performance in Trenton, he was very gracious with us upon his arrival and with me personally on the day after that start…I think I was the only one who got to speak with him. Considering everything’s he had to overcome — diabetes since age 11, retinal cancer — it was very difficult to remain impartial and not root for him.
After 2009: I’m not sure what Johnson’s plans are for 2010. At 36 years old, his 2009 season and with everything he’s had to overcome, I think it’s fair to say his future is certainly up in the air. Already the winner of MLB’s Tony Conigliaro Award, the fact that Johnson even pitched last year was a story in itself. But ultimately, it’s hard to get around the fact that he was tough to watch last season. Hopefully, his shoulder injury has recovered and he’ll be back on a pitching mound in 2010. Best of luck to him in whatever he does, he was a pleasure to cover.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com