Johnson Savors Honor As Nation’s Top Two-Way Player
By Thomas Carrigan // July 5, 2012
Proud Moment For Cocoa Beach Graduate
LUBBOCK, TEXAS – It was only fitting that the best two-way player in Florida Gators baseball history delivered an award to the best two-way player of 2012.
Brad Wilkerson, who was being inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame at the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center, was on hand to deliver the John Olerud Award to former Florida Gator and 2009 Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High School graduate Brian Johnson at the College Baseball Night of Champions Award Show last Saturday night.
Wilkerson, who starred as a power-hitting first baseman and pitcher for the Gators in the late 1990s, was met with raucous applause as he introduced Johnson to the Texas crowd.
The John Olerud Award is awarded to the nation’s top two-way baseball player and is named after Olerud, the helmet-wearing first baseman who starred as a hitter and pitcher for Washington State University in the 1980s and went on to play 17 years in the major leagues.
Johnson, who signed for $1.575 million with the Boston Red Sox as the 31st overall pick of the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft last week, was named to the Olerud Watch list all three years in college. He was a First-Team All-American by Perfect Game and the National College Baseball Writers Association this season, hitting .306 with 13 doubles, six home runs and 41 RBI. On the hill, he went 8-5, led the Gators pitching staff with 17 starts and finished with 73 strikeouts in 90 innings for a 3.90 ERA.
“I’m really grateful to Coach (Kevin) O’Sullivan because he gave me the opportunity to do both,” Johnson said. “He was a huge reason why I went to the University of Florida.”
Johnson also gave credit to his roommate of the past two years, catcher Mike Zunino, for helping him throughout his college career.
“As everybody knows, Zunino’s the best catcher I’ve ever thrown to,” Johnson said. “I’m not nervous to throw the ball in the dirt with a runner on third, less than two outs and the game on the line. Whatever pitch he calls, I throw it.”
Johnson’s father, Billy Johnson Sr., who was in attendance for the awards show, credits Florida’s coaching staff for helping balance both acts for his son.
“Florida really structured Brian to prepare him for the next level of baseball,” Johnson said.
“Since Little League, he was always going both ways. He would be bored sitting on the bench.” Billy Johnson Sr. talking about his son, Brian Johnson
“Brian’s always had the focus that even if he had a bat at bat, he wouldn’t take it out with him to the mound and vice versa. Since Little League, he was always going both ways. He would be bored sitting on the bench.”
Brian’s older brother, Billy Johnson II, who played for Brevard Community College and Flagler College, recalls a memorable weekend back in 2007 that showed him his brother had the potential to be a star both ways in college.
“I was entering my senior year of college back in the summer of 2007 and I was playing in a summer league wood-bat tournament,” Johnson said. “Brian, who was only 16, joined our team and more than held his own. He raked and even started a game on the mound for us. He excelled at a high level versus other college players.”
Florida’s head coach Kevin O’Sullivan, who flew by private jet with the baseball support staff for the awards show, was on stage as Johnson discussed the award with host Robert Giovannetti.
“He’s always been able to throw strikes,” O’Sullivan said. “When I first saw him pitch, I think he threw 53 pitches and threw 47 strikes so we kind of knew what we were getting. He’s had a tremendous career for us.”
Zunino was the big headlining act as he accepted the Dick Howser and Johnny Bench Awards, given to the top amateur baseball player and top catcher in the country, respectively. It’s the first time in Florida Gators baseball history that one of its players won the Olerud, Howser or Bench Awards.
Among the big names in attendance were St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Lou Brock and former six-time MLB All-Star and current ESPN Analyst Nomar Garciaparra. Both were being inducted into the College Baseball HOF.
Johnson, who is now playing for short-season Class-A Lowell Spinners in the New York-Penn League, will fly to Kansas City, Mo. Monday as he will be presented with the award at the 83rd Major League Baseball All-Star Game.