MLB relief pitcher Adam Johnson hangs up his glove, becomes a firefighter

10:42 AM, Aug 7, 2013   |    comments
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Adam Johnson, a former #2 overall draft pick in the major league baseball draft is now a firefighter at the Lehigh Acres fire department. Here he is loading a patient into an ambulance.



Lehigh Acres, Florida (News-Press) -- The No. 2 overall pick in the 2000 Major League Baseball Draft envisioned putting out late-inning fires as a relief pitcher for the Minnesota Twins.

Instead, Adam Johnson has learned to put out real fires as a firefighter in Lehigh Acres at station No. 102.

Johnson and Ryan Mills, whom the Twins took sixth overall in 1998, were supposed to be "can't-miss" pitching prospects out of college.

They both missed.

Looking back, Johnson said he had trouble pinpointing the reasons he didn't stick in the majors. He pitched in nine big league games in 2001 and 2003, finishing with a career ERA of 10.25.

Adrian Gonzalez, the No. 1 overall pick in that 2000 draft, is still slugging as a first baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers and in the second year of a seven-year, $154 million contract.

"There are a million different things that could be changed, and it's not easy to know which one, because you don't have that crystal ball," Johnson said. "I don't have any blame against the Twins, and I don't have any regrets or remorse at all."

Mills, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., was drafted out of Arizona State but never reached the majors after receiving a $2 million signing bonus.

Johnson, 34, joined the Twins out of Cal-State Fullerton, receiving a $2.5 million signing bonus. He still drives the 2000 Camaro he bought with part of that bonus money.

A regime change from manager Tom Kelly to Ron Gardenhire in 2002 did not help his development, said Johnson, who favored Kelly's style to that of Gardenhire.

"I was never really a starter," said Johnson, who started for much of his minor-league career, including 12 games for the Class A Fort Myers Miracle in 2000, when he had a 2.47 ERA with 92 strikeouts and 20 walks, all solid numbers for 691/3 innings.

"My body is built more for playing every day and not throwing tons and tons of pitches," Johnson said. "That was another thing Tom Kelly said. That was what he wanted me to be."

Mills' minor league numbers were much worse. Mills had an 8.87 ERA with 70 strikeouts and 87 walks in 951/3 innings in 1999. He made 21 starts and 27 appearances for the Miracle that season.

Rick Knapp, the Twins minor league pitching coordinator at the time, recalled Johnson and Mills well.

"Ryan, he came in really good," Knapp said. "But he was pre-programmed, and he never had the opportunity to be himself. He had to rely on constant coaching. With Ryan, I could not get him to a place where he felt comfortable competing. It was a constant tug-of-war. I think in his mind, it was mechanical. In my mind, it was the competitive, learning part."

Knapp said he found Johnson to be the opposite.

"Adam knew what he wanted to do and how he wanted to compete," Knapp said. "He wanted to compete, but he didn't want us to help him. The journey is a Hot Wheels track. You want to keep your wheels on the track. With Adam, he wanted to go his own way. He was resistant to making adjustments, because he wanted to do things his way.

"As coordinator, I feel personally responsible for his failure. I wanted to reach out to him and make him the guy everyone thought him to be. At the same time, it happens. It happens in the game."

Johnson has found solace in his new job in Lehigh Acres. Working 24 hours shifts twice a week allows him more time at home with his wife and their son, Jake Christian Johnson.

Being a firefighter, Johnson said, has given him a similar feel to being a minor league baseball player.

"It's still a team sport," Johnson said. "Firefighters are a brotherhood. There's a lot of camaraderie. When you're a kid, being a firefighter, a policeman and a baseball player are the top three careers, and I got to do two of them."

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