Cougars to honor Johnson

Ryan Johnson

This is going to be one memorable summer for former College of Charleston baseball star Ryan Johnson.

He's getting married in August. And prior to Saturday's game against The Citadel, Johnson's name will be added to the "Wall of Fame" at Patriots Point Field.

The right-hander sandwiched a couple of the best seasons in College of Charleston baseball history around Tommy John surgery to repair a damaged elbow, going 11-3 in 2002 and then coming back with a perfect 12-0 campaign in 2004 as he helped lead Charleston to its first postseason baseball appearance. That puts Johnson 1-2 on the list of victories in a single season at Charleston. His winning percentage of .885 is No. 1 all-time, and his career 3.26 ERA is No. 4.

"Ryan was a huge, huge part of a couple of teams that had success here," said current baseball coach Monte Lee, noting that Johnson was the ace of the 2004 team which played in the NCAA Regionals. "He was the ace of that staff and had a stellar career."

John Pawlowski, who coached Johnson at Charleston and is now the head coach at Auburn, said Johnson was one of the "toughest, hard-nosed pitchers I have been around in a long time."

"He got more out of his ability than anybody I had," Pawlowski said. "He came out his first year and won 11 games. Then he has Tommy John surgery and sits out the 2003 season. In 2004, he comes back and he's better after Tommy John surgery. That doesn't happen too often."

Pawlowski and his longtime assistant and former C of C player Scott Foxhall came up with the idea of the Wall of Fame as a way to honor players who helped build the program. In addition to outstanding careers, the members must have graduated from the school and be five years beyond their playing career. Lee and Scott Oliver were the inaugural members of the Wall of Fame in 2004. Also honored have been Joey Foxhall, Travis Howell, Billy Colome, Sam Moore and Lee Curtis.

Johnson, now the athletic coordinator for the Mount Pleasant Recreation Department, said the letter from Lee announcing the honor came as a surprise.

"It's a great honor to go up there with those guys. Those are some really, really good players from the past," Johnson said.

"The biggest thing from my career was 2004, and we were the first team to actually win the Southern Conference regular season, the first team to ever get a ring, the first team to go to a regional. Hopefully, that meant a lot to the program. It was the start of a new era is the way I looked at it."

Johnson grew up in Florida and initially planned to play at Florida State where he was an invited walk-on. But the beginning of elbow problems waylaid those plans, and he eventually got the opportunity to come to Charleston.

He had a standout season in 2002, but toward the end of the year the elbow problems resurfaced and he went to a series of doctors, one of whom told him he had seen more than 100 cases similar to Johnson's and his was the worst.

"He said, 'I don't know what the next step is in your baseball career, but if you ever plan on having kids and want to play catch with them, you're going to need this.' I really didn't have a choice," said Johnson, who was back on the mound about 15 months later.

"Nothing had really changed. As far as my velocity goes, everything was the same as before. I wasn't really a power pitcher. I was an 85 (mile per hour) to maybe topping out at 89 to 90."

After going 12-0 his senior season, Johnson spent the rest of the summer with Schaumberg, Ill., in the independent Northern League, but soon realized it was time to hang up his cleats. He began coaching high school and travel baseball and wound up with the Mount Pleasant Recreation Department.

"He was the epitome of a college pitcher," Pawlowski said. "When you break down the numbers, look at what he did and the games he pitched in, he just has phenomenal, phenomenal numbers."

--The College of Charleston baseball team is holding the "At Bat for Mack" fundraising event throughout this weekend's series with The Citadel. Mack Shieder of Columbia, who turns 2 on Sunday, has mixed lineage leukemia. T-shirts and bracelets will be sold and a silent auction will take place.