NWCC's Sean Johnson: He's no Semi-ProSeptember 4, 2012
By Kevin Maloney, SID
Sean Johnson has always been fascinated with home runs.
When the decision came to decide on a career in college and beyond, Johnson knew that he wanted to have a mix of his two loves; baseball and strength and conditioning.
Just 25-years-old and a Senatobian all his life, Johnson is pursuing his dreams one game at a time as the strength and conditioning coach for the AAA Memphis Redbirds of the St. Louis Cardinals organization.
A former Northwest Ranger and graduate of Senatobia HS, Johnson played in the outfield for head coach Mark Carson during the 2006-07 seasons. The Rangers won 61 games in his two seasons, and in his sophomore year, finished fourth at the NJCAA World Series in Millington, Tenn., after going 40-17.
In 75 career games at Northwest, including 55 starts, Johnson hit .319 with 17 doubles, three triples and three home runs and also drove in 32 runs. He added 13 career stolen bases, 20 walks and 42 runs scored.
Johnson later walked on at Mississippi State for legendary head coach, Ron Polk, and made the team in 2008. He was redshirted in his junior year, but later was let go after Polk retired.
“I had to tryout again when Polk left, and didn’t make the team for John Cohen,” Johnson said. “He gave me the opportunity to play at some smaller schools, but I was so close to graduating that I didn’t want to lose a semester or two of classes.”
Because things didn’t work out on the field, Johnson now had a chance to pursue his other passion of strength and conditioning.
He ended up helping out in the weight room at Mississippi State with the strength coach, John McCallister, for the 2009 season while he completed his undergraduate degree in kinesiology that summer.
“I needed an internship to graduate and coach (Bill) Selby put in a call at the Redbirds,” Johnson said. “His contacts helped me get an internship with the strength coach, and I went up for the home games from May to July and shadowed the position.”
Johnson later earned his master’s in exercise physiology in the fall of 2010 and kept contact with Selby and Chris Conroy, the athletic trainer in Memphis.
“I got to know the athletic trainer real well and he told me to shoot him a resume after I finished my master’s,” Johnson said. “Next thing I know, Pete Prinzi, the head strength coach for St. Louis, got my resume and gave me the opportunity to join the organization.”
In the spring of 2011, Johnson went to spring training in Jupiter, Fla., for a month. This past February, he returned for a second season and was there for almost six weeks.
“The first spring I was down there, I didn’t really talk to the guys much,” Johnson said.
But this past spring training was different.
Mark McGwire, the Cardinals’ hitting coach and one of the most decorated players of all-time, had a brief conversation with Johnson in Port St. Lucia that he remembers very well.
“He asked me what time I wanted to stretch the guys out,” Johnson said. “It kind of caught me off guard that he was actually talking to me and just really hit me that he respected my position with the team. I always grew up idolizing him.”
When McGwire and slugger Sammy Sosa got into their big home run race during the 1998 season, Johnson was glued to the TV and was excited as anyone else watching the chase. Both players ended up breaking Roger Maris' long-standing and highly coveted record of 61 home runs. McGwire broke Maris' record on September 8 against the Cubs and finished with 70 home runs. Sosa finished with 66.
In Johnson’s role as the strength and conditioning coach in Memphis, he has gotten the opportunity to work with multi-million dollar athletes such as Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Chris Carpenter and Lance Berkman and has traveled the country.
“It’s kind of a surreal moment sitting in the dugout and watching these guys day to day and seeing what kind of people they are,” Johnson said. “Lance Berkman is probably the most personable guy I’ve met in my three years. He’s well respected in the league, is a Christian man, loves the game and gives his best every single day.”
Johnson’s stint with Memphis has sent him to cities such as Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Colorado Springs, Albuquerque, Sacramento, Oklahoma City, Tucson and Omaha just to name a few. He was even fortunate enough in 2011 to catch Game 1 of the College World Series Championship series between Florida and South Carolina.
Through all his experiences as a young adult in a profession he loves, he’s stayed humble.
“My first job was with a pro baseball team,” Johnson said. “I can’t complain. I understand that not many people get to do this. It’s a grind every day and a long season, but I’ve been truly blessed.”
Johnson and the Memphis Redbirds will play their final game of the season today at the Nashville Sounds. First pitch is set for 12:05 p.m.