Baseball is in Steve Johnson’s blood.
His father, Dave, pitched in the major leagues for parts of five seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Detroit Tigers and most prominently, the Baltimore Orioles. Johnson followed the same path as his father, pitching in the big leagues for parts of four seasons with the Orioles and Seattle Mariners. A Baltimore native, Johnson had starred at St. Paul’s School (Md.) as an amateur.
In December 2018, Johnson retired from professional baseball, but he hasn’t left the game quite yet. He has again followed in his father’s footsteps, starting up his own baseball training company, Optimal Baseball Performance, a high-tech version of a cage his father set up at his house growing up.
“It was basically like walking into any batting cage you’d see anywhere,” Johnson said on The Bat Around with Stan “The Fan” Charles Aug. 24. “[My father] did lessons up there for a while and our baseball teams worked out of there when it rained and in the winter when I was growing up. It was plenty of space to do exactly what I’m trying to do now.”
Where Johnson, 32, differs from his father is that Johnson does not just work on a pitcher’s mechanics. He couples that with strength training to “sync those two things up.”
Johnson offers lessons to anyone from “eight to pro,” since he’s currently giving lessons to an 8-year old, but he said it depends on the type of kid.
“A lot of guys are a little unbalanced and unstable, especially young guys,” Johnson said. “You don’t want to work them through anything too hard, but you can work on balance and stability and that will go a long way when they do start to grow.”
The incorporation of high-speed video equipment is especially important with Kingsville, Md.-based Optimal Baseball Performance because Johnson is able to pinpoint different teaching points for each of his students. He is able to figure out their limits, what the can and cannot do, and tailor different drills to that.
Along with showing students what they are doing in their delivery, he uses video of MLB pitchers to show how “the most efficient person does this.”
“The video is important just because of a visual,” Johnson said. “A lot of guys are like, ‘I’m not doing that,’ and you look at the video and you’re like, ‘Here, it’s OK that you’re doing it, but we’re gonna fix it, but as long as you can see what you are doing.'”
Video is one component. Another is drills that are taught during lessons, but they are designed to be done outside of each session, too.
“If they really want to get better at it as quick as they can, they continue to do it at home and a lot of these things that I’m doing are things they can do at home,” Johnson said.
Unfortunately, Johnson knows that not every one of his students will make it professionally. It’s tough to get drafted and work your way up to the big leagues, and while everyone might not make it, you can teach them what it takes to make it.
“It’s really tough to put that on them and have them be able to understand it,” Johnson said. “What you can do is explain them the work that it takes to get there. You can have fun, but you have to work at it.”
In the end, he said that baseball helps teach you some important life lessons and hopefully, he can help keep kids around the game as they get older.
“[Baseball] will teach you how to deal with failure because there’s a lot of it in this game,” Johnson said. “It will also teach you how to be a good teammate and how to work together because there’s a lot of good things that baseball can provide. … If I can work with some kids and get them a little better at it so they can enjoy it a little more, maybe they’ll continue to play.”
Follow Optimal Baseball Performance on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/optimalbaseball/
For more from Johnson, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox