Troy Johnston flew out to left field in a game with his summer-league baseball team. He jogged on his way back to the dugout until about the third-base line and walked from there.
He got an earful from his Kent Bulldogs coach, Jay Garthwaite, a former minor league player.
“He said, ‘Listen, you are not in the big leagues yet. You have no right to be walking on the field until you are making $10.5 million,’” said Johnston, a junior and three-year starter for Rogers High School.
Johnston won the 4A South Puget Sound League South’s batting title for the third consecutive year, this year batting .500 (30 for 60) through 21 games.
But it was that game this past summer that it mentally clicked for him. Johnston said he doesn’t let poor results at the plate affect his confidence like he has in past years.
“You have to learn how to deal with failure,” said Johnston, who has committed to Gonzaga University. “That’s something I can take with me into the future. I know I can deal with failure.”
This is the second consecutive year he’s posted a .500 batting average, but it’s how he’s hit this year that’s been impressive. He’s got more than twice as many RBIs (20) as he did last season (nine) and Rogers went from sixth place in the 4A SPSL South to second.
Rams coach Matt Whitehead said Johnston’s maturity at the plate has improved.
“He is such a freak athletically,” Whitehead said. “He’s just that good. But now he’s taking it to the next level where he is looking for certain pitches. And he’s still getting better. That’s the scary thing.”
Johnston has had quick hands since he entered the program. It’s why Whitehead started him on varsity as an outfielder and first baseman as a freshman.
But Johnston said scouts wanted him to get stronger. He’s hit one home run each of the past three years.
“I don’t care if I’m Mr. Irrelevant (final pick) or a first-round pick, my goal is to get drafted (out of high school) and then move on to Gonzaga,” Johnston said. “I know they will make me a lot better there (at Gonzaga). So whatever amount of money, whatever round, I still think I will go to college because that, to me, is more important.”
Johnston’s father, David, the wrestling coach at Rogers, said Troy was born to play sports. His first word was “ball” while watching “The Sandlot.”
“He was always waiting, wanting to throw a ball,” David Johnston said. “It was never me waiting, ever. He’d be waiting with buckets of balls and Wiffle balls at the front door until one of us would get home.”
Troy Johnston also plays football and the past two years was a wrestler, but he lacerated his kidney in a football game this past fall (the doctor told him it was something they only see in car crashes) and then suffered a concussion his first game back. So he took the wrestling season off.
He also played golf before entering high school.
Scot Solomonson, a PGA professional and general manager for RMG Club at Oakbrook in Lakewood, was his golf instructor and would often correlate golf with baseball.
“He would say, ‘It’s like hitting a home run to center field. Hit a home run to center,’” Johnston said. “That always helped me. I know in golf if you hit it straight, usually you are pretty good. In baseball, if you can square up every baseball up the middle, you will usually have success.”
Johnston said he spends the hours leading up to a game first hitting baseballs at Diamond Sports in Sumner. Then he’ll meet the team at the field and hit some more.
He struck out on a curveball his second at-bat in Tuesday’s SPSL tournament game against Decatur. He just missed that same curveball from Decatur pitcher Garrett Westberg the next at-bat.
With the bases loaded and the game tied at 1 in the top of the seventh, Johnston saw the curve again.
Johnston didn’t miss, hitting it to center field for a two-run single that led Rogers to a 3-2 win.
“My freshman year, if I got out I would be angry, I would not be able to bounce back,” Johnston said. “But now, if I get out my first at-bat, you can still count on me the rest of the game.”