FORT MILL --
His name is about as common as they come, but his talent is anything but.
Charlotte Knights’ first baseman Dan Johnson knows the power of the spotlight, but also knows what it is to be humble.
Johnson is hitting .268 through Sunday with 22 home runs and 64 RBI in 101 games for the Knights this season, his first in the Chicago White Sox organization.
Johnson looks like any other guy named Dan whom you might meet on the street. Despite his home-run power, he isn’t a hunking hitter like a David Ortiz or an Albert Pujols, but a consistent threat to drive in runs.
Johnson is the type of player who looks more at the hidden numbers that don’t always catch your eye, like on-base percentage, which through Sunday was .409.
“The power numbers are decent, but I feel like I could be doing a lot better,” he said. “I feel like I have left a lot of runners out there with RBI chances. I would like to do better in different situations. On-base percentage I am happy with. My main goal for the year is to stick around the .400 mark for on-base percentage.”
Growing up in Minnesota, baseball was second behind hockey. Hockey was so popular at Blaine High School, where he attended, that the school had no trouble fielding a team, while baseball was a different story.
“We had like 277 guys going out for the hockey team, and like eight guys total going out for baseball,” he said.
Drafted by Oakland in 2001, Johnson has spent time in the majors with both Oakland and Tampa Bay. He was drafted out of the University of Nebraska, where he hit .361 with 25 home runs and 68 RBI during his senior season and was named second team All-American.
Johnson, who flips houses in the off-season, is trying to get back to the majors. He helped Tampa Bay finish last season with a bang, hitting the game-tying home run that sent the team into the playoffs on the last day of the season.
Spitting time between the minor leagues and the majors, and even spending a year in Japan, Johnson has gradually climbed the ladder of success. But injuries have kept him from reaching the top.
“I haven’t had a healthy year in the big leagues,” He said. “So it’s kinda out of my control. I have had some crazy injuries happen. It is really out of my control. It’s part of the game. But I battle back.”
Last year’s battle back — after fracturing his wrist 12 games into the season — was especially rewarding. Johnson played in just 31 games for Tampa Bay, but was able to return to the line up towards the end of the season.
It was game number 162 of the season, as Tampa Bay was playing the New York Yankees trying to make it to the post season.
Johnson hit a pinch-hit home run with two out and two strikes against him in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game, where the Rays would eventually win in extra innings. It was his first hit of the season since April 27.
“At the end of last year I was only able to take one or two swings in a day, just to be able to play,” he said. “I was just fortunate enough to get the right swing at the right time. That was what my season was down two. I couldn’t really hit. I had no top hand. I couldn’t control my hand. I would hold the bat and swing and then my hand was gone.”
Johnson said the moment is hard to explain.
“As a fan of baseball, it’s awesome, just taking myself out of it,” he said. “But looking back I can say I am glad to be a part of it. The whole night was a phenomenal night. You can’t write the script the way it was. It was better than a movie script.”
At the end of last season, Johnson became a free agent, and signed with the White Sox. And despite putting up great numbers so far this season, he has yet to be called up.
However, he is quickly to say the game doesn’t owe him anything.
“I never expect anything from this game,” he said. “Everything you get in this game you have to earn. It will humble you faster than anything I can think of. This game, once you think you have a grasp on it, it will turn on you.”
With the White Sox in playoff contention and with Johnson’s playoff experience, a possible late season call-up wouldn’t be out of the question. But with that being out of his control, Johnson said he will just keep trying to get on base and see where the season takes him.
“The track record I have is for late pushes,” he said. “Experience is pretty much everything. I just have to go out and do what I got to do.”