Baseball has a funny way about bringing out the romance in sports. Perhaps no one in Colorado knows that more than Cherry Creek coach Marc Johnson.
Nearly 50 years and 800-plus wins into his coaching career, his love for the game has never wavered. It has helped him develop relationships with countless kids that have come through his program and he's hoping that's a trend that will continue for years to come.
With baseball set to return at the professional level, Johnson couldn't help but stress just how badly the game has been missed and how much it has meant to him and the hundreds of kids that have made their way through the Cherry Creek program.
Question: How much have we missed baseball over the last few months?
Johnson: Oh, I think tremendously. I think the kids have missed it. I know the players, the major league players, have missed it. The fans have missed it. It's been a real adjustment for everybody. I was watching a couple of summer camp games and it just looked so odd because there was nobody in the stands. I can tell you the businesses in LoDo miss it. Everybody that I know has missed it. The game has been missed very very much.
Q: When you think on your career at Cherry Creek, are you able to appreciate more now than maybe you did a year or two ago?
Johnson: Yes, absolutely. I will be starting my 49th year and I've never had a year like this, I think the one thing it does do is make you appreciate what you can do when you can do it.
Q: You have over 800 wins now, is there a point where you've considered slowing down or is this a game that's just going to keep you in it as long as possible?
Johnson: As long as I'm healthy and as long as I feel the kids are still responding; the game is not about me or it's not about even the sport itself, it's about the kids that are playing it. As long as the kids are playing it are enjoying it, they're getting better, and every kid's not meant to play collegiately or professionally.
But I get to look back on my own personal time in baseball, and I've loved every second of it for the time I was five, six years old. People ask me all the time when I'm going to stop and that's when kids don't respond anymore or kids don't show the passion that I love to see. I have a genuine love of the game itself and I'm not in coaching contrary to what a lot of people believe, they think I'm about winning games or setting records or something like that, but that has nothing to do with why I'm coaching. That's meaningless to me. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be, if it's not, it's not. I'm not concerned about that. My point is that I love to watch guys walk on the field and smile and be humble and gracious that they get the opportunity to play the game that I love. And I hope that I can transfer the passion, the love of the game to the kids.
One thing that I ask my players at the end of every season is to give something back to the game. Whether you play it again or you don't. Whether you play collegiately or professionally. IF you're a dad be a coach to a team, provide uniforms, be a sponsor, pay for umpires or help sponsor a team. Do something to keep the game going. This is a different era. Now you got all the clubs and these kids have three, four or five uniforms. They're traveling at 10 years old. I used to wear a tee shirt with somebody's auto shop or Joe's Barbershop on the back. That was our sponsorship and we bought own pants. It hasn't changed, the game itself for the love of the game, but what I want is I want to teach the kids to enjoy the game. And then if it's meant to be that they play further on, then more power to them.
It's a game that's very valuable for life because there's a lot of failure you have to deal with. The game itself, baseball, one of the beauties of it in my opinion is it's life like. It's very much like life. You can be riding up high and then it can slam you to the ground. And that's true for big leaguers, minor leaguers, college players, even 10 year olds. But you know what? You have to learn how to handle that. And I think that's a great life skill. You have to learn how to handle the things that don't go well. How do I react to adversity? How do I make adjustments? How do I teach myself to be patient, to be persistent and to persevere?
It's been a blessing and an honor for me to coach it. The game has kept me young because the players are young. I'm coaching guys that are 15, 18, 19, maybe, but you know what? They're just young enough to keep you, keep you young and fired up and interested in going for it.
Q: Is there a point where you've either seen a player that's come through your program, that's made it to the majors or just gone on to have a regular job and made his way back to say hello where you truly believe you're in the right spot to help kids be successful?
Johnson: I do. And I felt it from both sides. I get a lot of response from my former players. Usually it's one of two things. It's something that's going well in their life or getting married or having a baby, or when things are not going very well. I just try to respond and say, perseverance, stay with it, you'll get through it. I've had the player who has gone on who didn't play collegiately, but he's gone on to be a great businessman, his kid is playing ball. I had someone the other day, because I've had a lot of my former players kids, and I've had players ask me if I'm going to give it up when you get the grandkids. I have my own grandkids and I'm watching them play.
Baseball's a part of my blood. I feel that that's where God has decided that I would best serve the community and the country. I still love doing it and I'm hoping to get another year of doing all that. These sports do so much for kids at the youth level, not just high school, but I just think it's so important to them to have that experience, to learn how to compete ethically, to learn how to have fun and to learn how to handle losing with grace and not teach them that they have to love losing. I tell the guys every day for you, whether you're playing a game or not, it's a practice. That's all it is. It's a practice. It's a practice for you for later. Baseball-wise, it's a practice for life. It's just a practice.
All of these kids, they all think I have to be this and I have be that. I have to be a big leaguer and I have to tell them fact. The fact is 10% of Division I players never play professionally. Four-point-five of those play in the big leagues. One of every 10,000 boys, not baseball players, but boys play in the major leagues. You shouldn't be playing to be a major leaguer. You should be playing to be the best you can be.
Q: You have a vault of memories in your head from all the time that you've been coaching. If someone were to ask you, what's the first memory that pops into your head when you think about your time at Cherry Creek, what pops in there?
Johnson: Two things. One thing is just having the pleasantness to be able to coach kids, that's number one. And the second one would be when we won five straight titles in a row. That's pretty rare from a winning thing. But working with the kids is much more important for me and every kid that ever played there. I'm hoping that they had a positive experience and I fully know that you can't please all the people all the time, but I I'm hoping that their baseball experience transferred to their life. That's a hope that I have. I've had great players, unbelievable coaches, a great administration. I'm one of the most blessed people on Earth doing what I love to do.I have people say we appreciate what you do and I appreciate the opportunity to do it.
Q: You wouldn't be in this if you weren't a baseball fan, what's going to be your first thought when you can sit down, turn on the TV and watch the Rockies play after everything that's gone on in the last few months?
Johnson: I'll be very excited. I worked part time for the Rockies for seven or eight years. I love my home team. I'll be excited and I'll be fine just watching them, even if there aren't fans. I certainly wish there were. I'm hoping that the gets back to what it's about. It's an entertaining game. It's not a lot different than people who love to go to concerts. I love to watch college sports, I love to watch professional sports and obviously I'm a huge Broncos fan, a huge Nuggets fan and a huge Rockies fan, the Outlaws, it doesn't matter to me. This is where I live. So I'm really looking forward to watching a game that is meaningful, even though I loved watching them last night or two at summer camp. But I'll love it when it's for real. Even a 60-game season is better than a zero-game season.