Johnson can taste MLB

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    By John Tomlinson

    SALT LAKE CITY — Former Cougar and current Salt Lake Stingers” outfielder Gary Johnson achieved the high point of his career this season when he got a call up from the World Champion Anaheim Angels, and hopes to return by September.

    On April 26, Angels” centerfielder Darin Erstad was placed on the disabled list with a hamstring injury. That is when the Angels called up outfielder Gary Johnson to the big leagues, for the first time in his career.

    Johnson recalls his first at bat in the big leagues.

    “It was tremendous … because it was probably one of the most intense emotional feelings I have ever felt in my life,” Johnson said. “It happened to be a sellout crowd that night against the Boston Red Sox and I got that hit [a double], and Nomar Garciaparra gave me a little tap on the rear end and said good job.”

    Johnson stayed with the Angels until May 9 when he was sent back to the Stingers.

    He played many sports growing up but realized he was the most talented in baseball.

    “I knew that I could play baseball in college so I ended up doing that,” Johnson said. “I got drafted when I was a senior in high school and … so it just kind of started from there.”

    He began his college career at Cal Berkeley and played for two years. Then Johnson decided to serve a mission and was called to Madrid, Spain.

    “I always admired missionaries and I wanted to do missionary work,” Johnson said. “I wanted to serve the Lord because I have been given so many blessings in my life and I felt like I needed to pay Him back in some way.”

    Johnson said his mission president talked to him in his first interview and encouraged him to go to BYU. So, after his mission he came to BYU and played under head coach Gary Pullins.

    “We were just really lucky to land this guy,” Pullins said. “He is a presence on the field and does everything so well. He was one of the true bright spots on the team”

    Johnson played for one season at BYU and was named to the all-Western Athletic Conference second team. The Anaheim Angels selected Johnson in the 19th round of the 1999 draft.

    Johnson worked his way through the Angels” farm system and in 2000 was named the Angels” Minor League Player of the Year.

    Last year Johnson was called up to the Stingers, but unfortunately he was plagued by injuries and was out most of the season. This year he is back and looking to improve his numbers.

    “I have to get my average up to about .285,” Johnson said. “I want to hit about 15 home runs and get my RBIs to at least 85. I am trying to accomplish that on a daily basis.”

    Stingers” manager Mike Brumley acknowledges that Johnson has had an inconsistent year and says he considers this year a comeback year for Johnson.

    “I am looking for him to have a big month-and-a-half,” Brumley said. “I think that will be a key for our club and he”s certainly capable of doing it.”

    Johnson said he is getting married in October to a former BYU student, although he said they didn”t meet at BYU. He is also focused on baseball right now.

    “I am taking this one year at a time,” Johnson said. “I am committed to baseball right now and I”m committed to what I am doing right now, but I think I will know when it is time to move on.”

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