Johnson's presentation a home run
Howard Johnson figuratively hit one out of the park on Wednesday at Wakeman Field. The New York Mets' hitting coach was Baseball World Training School's guest instructor and provided a comprehensive lesson to the campers on the art of hitting.
"He's a pro's pro," Baseball World owner Vince Diaco said. "He's an outstanding speaker and is very well-spoken. Howard Johnson absolutely loves to instruct baseball and not just too young kids but to major leaguers as well."
Johnson has the pedigree and a firsthand knowledge about the art of hitting in providing the proper instruction to the kids. In addition to being in his fourth year as the Mets' hitting coach, he played nine years for them as well and was on the 1986 team that won the World Series.
Overall, he played 14 seasons in the Majors, playing his first three with the Detroit Tigers, starting in 1982 and winning a World Series for them in 1984. Johnson went from the Tigers to the Mets and once his tenure as a player in Queens, he signed with the Colorado Rockies in 1994 and finished his playing career with the Chicago Cubs in 1995.
During his career, he was a switch hitter who hit for power with 228 home runs and 760 RBI. Johnson also had 231 stolen bases and was in the 30-30 club for home runs and stolen bases in 1987, 1989 and 1991. In 1991, he led the National League in home runs (38) and RBI (117). He slammed 36 homers and 101 RBI with a .287 average and 41 stolen bases in 1989 to go with career-highs in slugging percentage (.559) and on-base percentage (.369) in finishing fifth in the race for NL MVP with 153 points.
As a reward, he played in the 1989 and 1991 All-Star games. Overall, he's third in career home runs and RBI for the Mets and second in doubles and stolen bases.
In speaking to the campers, Johnson emphasized the importance of not being afraid to make an out, be aggressive at the plate and go in with the attitude that you are better than the pitcher. He said it's valuable for switch hitter's to be successful in hitting from both sides of the plate.
According to Johnson, the first step a batter must take while hitting is to focus on plate coverage and the batting stance. He then said the batter must master the proper sequence of the swing with his arms back and front foot forward, pivoting on the ball of the foot while swinging shoulder to shoulder. The front foot needs to be closed and the batter must have his eyes on the ball.
One thing he stressed was the importance being straight in the batter's box and that it's important to learn the fundamentals and that the game constantly changes. The timing of the swing determines where the ball is hit and it's important to choke up, especially when there are two strikes. Batters must watch the pitcher's arm and he encouraged the campers to ask questions.
"I thought it went great," Johnson said. "I think the kids did a great job and it was one of the smartest group of kids I've been around. They ask great questions and Vince has something good going around here."
Some of the questions the kids asked pertained to holding the bat, getting ready to hit and shifting your weight at the plate. Once the campers started to hit off the tee, the Mets hitting coach was pleased with what he saw.
"When I was walking around looking at their hitting, they were practicing what we were talking about and made the adjustments well," Johnson said.
The youngsters in turn, found Johnson's lessons to be valuable to them.
"It was a great experience, a pro teaching us was very cool because this was the instruction that the pros get and I loved it," Saugatuck Elementary School fifth grader James Bjorkman said. "I learned a lot, I learned the simple facts that I didn't know, like the grip on the bat. I asked questions and he was able to answer them. It shows that Baseball World is like the pros and the big leagues because the big leaguers come to you."
Bjorkman asked about batting stance and how to deal with fastballs.
"It was fun because you don't get to meet too many major league players who are famous," Coleytown Elementary School third grader Peter Londoner said. "He was helpful because I don't usually choke up and he said it's sometimes good to choke up and it's good to do it when there are two strikes."
Johnson also taught fielding to the kids. He instructed them to be centered and always be in a ready position and they should get below the ball to insure getting a good hop. According to the coach, there are many types of ready position and that the fielder must always move towards the ball so he can get rid of it quickly. Similar to the plate, a fielder must be aggressive but not to hurry the throw.
"Howard has a lot of patience and he would go the extra mile to make sure each player will be successful," Diaco said. "That's his nature."