Keith Johnson relishing first season with Bees
July 15, 2011
SALT LAKE CITY Keith Johnson stands in his bare office, answering questions. Positioned in a wide stance with both hands behind his back, his demeanor screams baseball.
The 40-year-old Johnson is in his first season as manager of the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees franchise. He is the first former player (2002-2003) to return to coach the team. In his eighth season in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim organization, Johnson has managed two Single-A clubs: the Cedar Rapids Kernels in 2008, and the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in 2009-10. In those three seasons, he led each team to the playoffs.
"He’s a great guy. He’s doing a hell of a job for his first year as a Triple-A manager," said Bees infielder Gil Velazquez. "I can’t say any more positive things about him. I’m happy having a manager that I can trust and just get along with."
At the Triple-A All-Star Game Wednesday evening, Johnson trotted out to the bullpen mound down the first base line at Spring Mobile Ballpark, helping Brad Mills of the Las Vegas 51s warm up. Johnson, in his first year managing in Triple-A, got the call to be part of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) All-Star team coaching staff at his home park that hosted the visiting International League.
Johnson said he was filling in for the previously selected pitching coach. PCL All-Star manager Lorenzo Bundy of the Albuquerque Isotopes asked Johnson if he’d be interested.
"Being named to this staff is awesome," he said. "I was honored that they would feel comfortable enough to have me do it. It’s been a great time so far."
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Having played professionally for 12 years as an infielder, he lives in Park City with his wife Malena and their four children.
His 16-year-old son, Korey, plays football at East High School for former Park City High School head coach Brandon Matich.
He dabbles in baseball for the Leopards, too.
"I coach him," Johnson said. "I always say, ‘It’s the same thing in life.’ It’s about what you put into anything. About work ethic and putting in that extra work."
He said when he stumbled upon the opportunity to move his family to Park City, he jumped.
Johnson said he has made friends through various youth sports in town. "Those are friendships I’m going to have for the rest of my life. I value all of those people. It’s just a nice city and a nice community. The people we met and we interacted with were quality people."
Professionally, Johnson understands his role preparing his guys to be ready and able if the phone rings and Angels manager Mike Scioscia is on the line.
"It’s just a matter of doing my best to get my guys on my team to be as ready for the majors as possible, so that way, when they get up there that may be their only one shot. When they get that shot, they’ll understand what’s important. If they’re important down here, then when they get up there, they’ll be just as important. It might give them a chance to make a better impression.
"Whether it’s a job, or it’s baseball, it’s no different. It’s all built on first impressions."
Bees third baseman Jeff Baisley, who along with Velazquez were the only Bees players on the PCL All-Star roster, said he enjoys Johnson’s approach to the game.
"He lets you play," he said. "He doesn’t put too much pressure on you. He gets upset when he has to, but he’s relatively laid back. It’s been a good experience."
Asked if Johnson has a tendency to get fired up at times, Baisley laughed.
"He can," he said. "He’s out there learning just like we are. He’s worked out well everyone gets along with him."
Johnson said his passion for the game doesn’t come from a fiery side, necessarily; he just wants his players to appreciate where they are at the moment.
"I have a desire for the game to be played right," he said. "It all comes from the daily routine what you put into this game is what you’re going to get out. That’s something that I learned over those 12 years that I played.
"What you go in and do every day is going to show up on the field. If you worry about what’s showing up on the field, and not putting the work in, it’s going to be inconsistent."
Velazquez, who played in the Boston Red Sox organization and was on the 2008 postseason roster, was selected to his first All-Star appearance in 14 years of professional baseball. Johnson said the moment he found out he was joining Velazquez on the PCL All-Star roster was quite special.
Prior to the first pitch, he waltzed along the first base line chatting with fans and signing autographs. His first season with the Bees has been a test (the Bees were 39-52 through the first half of the season), but Johnson can take solace in knowing he wants the game played the way it’s supposed to.
"As far as him being a manager, he’s definitely one of the best ones I’ve had," Velazquez said.