When USC assistant coach Brian Buscher decided not to return as the coach for the Columbia Blowfish after winning the team’s first Coastal Plain League championship last year, Blowfish president Bill Shanahan went looking for a suitable replacement for his summer collegiate team.
He didn’t need to go far.
Dutch Fork High coach Jonathan Johnson was announced Wednesday as the new coach. The pair connected through a mutual friend, and once they met to discuss the opening, a deal was quickly reached.
“By the end of that dinner, there was no doubt in his mind and no doubt in my mind that it was the right fit and the right thing to do,” said Johnson, who is stepping down as Dutch Fork’s coach at the end of his third season.
Johnson, a former first-round pick of the Texas Rangers in the 1995 MLB draft as an All-American right-handed pitcher out of Florida State, pitched parts of six seasons in the major leagues with Texas, San Diego and Houston.
Johnson, 38, who serves as the minister of recreation for Riverland Hills Baptist Church in Irmo for his primary job, can’t wait to coach the more experienced Blowfish players, whose 56-game season begins May 28, with the first home game at Capital City Park the following night.
“To have kids like this coming from great college programs that already know the game, it’s exciting and challenging to coach at a higher level,” Johnson said. “It’s an awesome opportunity to work with some tremendous talent and helping these guys become better ballplayers and better men off the field. There’s so much I’ve gone through over 20 years of playing baseball, 10 professionally, that I feel like I can share with these guys.”
Johnson, who played in the Cape Cod League in 1995 before he signed with the Rangers, understands the dynamics of summer leagues, from the transition to wood bats for hitters and pitchers to the adjustment of out-of-town players living with a host family.
Joining the staff as the pitching coach is Parker Bangs, who played for South Carolina from 2008-10 before spending three seasons in the Kansas City Royals organization. Bangs, 25, a member of the 2010 national championship team, is working toward his master’s degree in public administration while also assisting Johnson at Dutch Fork. A former CPL player in Fayetteville, Bangs would like to make coaching his career.
“I just want to get my coaching feet wet and get some experience coaching college guys as well as high school guys,” he said. “I want to stay around the game. I love baseball, and I want to be around it any way I can.”
This season also will be the final one at Capital City Park, where minor league teams and now this summer collegiate league team have played since 1927. The city of Columbia has sold the land where the ballpark sits to developers.
Johnson, who pitched in some of the final games played at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium and Seattle’s Kingdome, likes the idea of coaching the team in the park’s sendoff.
“It’s neat to be in old ballparks with so much heritage and so much history. There’s something to that,” Johnson said.