Archive for June 24th, 2008

Now Batting, for the United States of America…

Usually, OMDQ puts one of these columns up to denote the Major League arrival of one of the Bus League faithful. But Lt. Jonathan Johnston is no ordinary player. A 2006 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Johnston had already spent a year on active duty before the Oakland A’s took a flyer and selected him in the 42nd round of the 2007 first-year player draft. His .317 senior-year batting average for Navy no doubt grabbed their attention, but the amazing 35 stolen bases (for a catcher!) had to be the clincher.

While Johnston’s ship, the USS Peleliu, was in port, his commanding officer allowed him to join the Oakland As affiliate – The Kane County Cougars. The Navy man played in 36 games and was just starting to shake off a year’s worth of rust before he got the unwelcome word that the Peleliu was setting sail for the Persian Gulf, and he was expected to be on board, at his gunnery station.

Johnston’s no shirker. He signed up, and he’s willing to serve. He just wonders why he’s getting a different deal than some other members of the armed forces.

“I’m proud of the fact I’ve served two years and feel I have done my duty well. I’m not trying to get out of my last three years, I just want to find a way to keep playing baseball while still serving… just like the Army guys,” Johnston said.

Johnston is referring to the fact the United States Army is allowing West Point graduates to participate in professional sports while on active duty. A total of five former Army baseball players – 2006 graduates Nick Hill (Seattle Mariners) and Milan Dinga (Los Angeles Angels) along with 2007 alums Cole White (Pittsburgh Pirates), Drew Clothier (Florida Marlins) and Chris Simmons (Pirates) – are currently playing in the minors.

“I’m the first Naval Academy player to go through this process and I’m trying to do it the right way,” Johnston said.

[Hometown Annapolis]

It’s tempting to think that maybe Johnston is being handled differently because he’s not as good as he thinks he is. But consider this – the A’s had every notion of assigning him to the Rookie League to start out. But Johnston’s skills and maturity forced them to reconsider, and put him in A ball.

Johnston is already 24 years old. He knows this is his only shot. He still has a request pending that could allow him to serve as a recruiting officer – essentially using his semi-celebrity status to put a pleasant face on the Navy, and bring more new sailors into the fleet. Considering how difficult it has become for the armed services to recruit during this time of hostility, that might be an effective tradeoff.

Whichever way it turns out, we wish Lieutenant Junior Grade Johnston the best of luck, and thank him for his service.