GENEVA – Cougars manager Mark Johnson turns 39 at season’s end, an age that seems young for someone leading a baseball team until you realize most of his players are a generation younger.
This week at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, Johnson exchanged lineups and strategies with Fort Wayne counterpart Michael Collins, 29. The perspective reset.
The men met at home plate before three games, but their paths before then followed far different routes. Johnson is a former Major League catcher and first-round draft pick, beginning his career with the White Sox. Collins, an Australian, played the same position in the Angels and Padres systems for 10 seasons, appearing in just eight games at Triple-A.
“You know, I started young. I signed at 16, left home, so I was forced to grow up somewhat there,” Collins said. “I’ve traveled the world, fortunately, all through baseball. So I don’t feel old, that’s not right, but definitely maybe slightly more seasoned or experienced than my years, I guess.”
Like the players he’s responsible for molding, Collins is in the larval stages of any potential climb to the big leagues. Should he realize the dream he missed as a player, he would not set any standard for the youngest in his position.
Cleveland Indians icon Lou Boudreau started his time with the club at 24, while Bucky Harris guided the Washington Senators to the 1924 World Series title at 27. They aren’t the only young guns in baseball’s annals, which include former interim New York Yankees manager Roger Peckinpaugh, who was 23 in 1914.
“That’s a lot to put on somebody’s plate at 29, but, you know, there’s a lot of guys back in the day that managed earlier than that,” Johnson said. “So it’s all [relative].”
In today’s majors, first-time managers have enjoyed unprecedented success. Two met in last season’s World Series, as Boston and John Farrell defeated Mike Matheny and St. Louis.
Matheny, like Collins and Johnson, was a catcher, which goes a long way no matter someone’s age or hometown.
“I think as a catcher, you’re involved in every play. You’re forced – if you want to be good at it, anyways – to learn the game. Learn all the plays, learn all the strategic elements, I guess you could call it,” Collins said.
“You get a little more insight versus maybe an infielder or an outfielder. You learn a little bit quicker and a little bit more about the game.”
• Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @kevindruley.
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