2017 Season Recap: Fall Star – Steven Johnson

The Feature Star for the Fall of 2017 is American Steven Johnson for played for Attnang-Puchheim Athletics in the Austrian First Division, leading them to their 2nd consecutive championship crown in 2017. Johnson first participated with the International Stars at Prague Baseball Week 2016 and followed it up with another stellar performance both on the mound and at the plate in 2017.  In being named the Fall Feature Star for 2017, Johnson put up some ridiculous numbers for Attnang this season both on the mound and at the plate. He compiled a Won-Loss record of 9-2 in 87 Innings Pitched, striking out 114 batters while only walking 15 with a stellar 2.69 E.R.A. Showing why he was named the International Baseball Community’s top 2-way player of 2017 he did just as much, if not more damage, at the plate. Johnson hit a robust .466 with a .563 OBP and Slugged .886 with 9 Home Runs and 52 RBI in the Austrian league. Continue below to read our interview with Steven and how he went from undrafted and injured to productive Independent Ball player to International Super-Star in Australia and Europe….

International Stars (IS): First, can you tell us a bit about your background/story… Where did you grow up, where did you play college ball at, what teams have you played for overseas?

Steven Johnson (SJ): I grew up in the country about 30 minutes outside of Chico, California. I played high school baseball for the Pleasant Valley Vikings. After the Vikings I played one season at Butte Community College. Once I finished one year at Butte I transferred to Feather River Community College where we won the Golden Valley Conference title. I pitched and played the outfield both years at community college.

Steven tries out Indy ball in the States before moving across the pond

I received a scholarship to go play for Avila University in Kansas City Missouri. I played there for 2 years as a closer and a starting pitcher. I won one conference title and was the first pitcher in school history to throw a complete game shutout in the super regional playoffs. College ended and I went to pursue my career in independent professional baseball in Sonoma for the Sonoma Stompers. Three days before opening day I strained my UCL. I didn’t need Tommy John but needed to sit out the summer. I rehabbed and made a full recovery and decided to go play for the Alpine Cowboys in Texas for the Pecos League. During that season we won our conference and I was the first out of bullpen with 60+ innings with 8 wins. When that season ended I was asked if I wanted to go play for a team in Australia for the winter. I played for the Carina Redsox in Brisbane Australia where I received MVP of the team. I then met David Burns who signed me to a contract to play for the Attnang Athletics in Austria. I played there my last 2 seasons and won the championship both years while receiving a few accolades. I am now about to play a summer in Canada for the Moncton Fisher Cats.

IS: How did you first get into playing baseball overseas? 
SJ: The person I have to thank for starting my overseas career would be Brett Kennedy who was my coach in Alpine Texas. He was once the import player for the Carina Redsox before and they called him looking for a pitcher. I was lucky enough that Brett thought that I would be a good fit there and mentioned my name. From there I met and developed a good relationship with David Burns who runs the IBC. Burns has helped me keep playing and being successful overseas and also helping me get my fellow players overseas helping teams win.
Steven Johnson pitching for the International Stars at PBW 2016
IS: How would you compare the level of European baseball to what you were accustomed to playing back in the States?

SJ: The level of play at times can be very similar or better than some play of the United States. The biggest different I see from both sides the availability of quality players and the strength of players. Each team in Europe always has a “guy” or two who are legit. In the states when you get to a certain level every guy is legit 1 through 9 and every arm on the mound.

IS: What are some of the adjustments that you’ve had to make in your lifestyle or on the field while playing overseas?

SJ: The biggest adjustment in playing overseas is the routine. When I played in Texas we played a game everyday for 3 months. In Europe you usually just play on the weekends with a day or 2 of practice during the week. In Texas it was easy to get into a routine and stay strong and keep everything in good working shape. In Europe when you have a bunch of free time and all these new distractions around you its easy to lose focus why your there in the first place. For me its important to both enjoy the moment and see things but also perform and do what I was brought to that team to do. So managing your time is a little different in Europe then the US.

IS: Who or what do you credit for your success in your overseas playing career?

SJ: Two things I think have helped me be so successful in Europe was David Burns and Driveline. Burns who runs the IBC is a great promoter of players and puts a ton of time into his website and expanding his network. I know personally as I lived with him this past summer while playing for the Attnang Athletics. He has helped me expand my network connections to teams, players, coaches and opportunities. Second reason for my success I would say would be the new throwing program I started called Driveline out of Kent Washington. I had been following and reading these guys articles and methods of thinking and research they do. I started last winter and this spring it showed not only on the mound but at the plate. I led the leagues in strikeouts with 114 with 15 walks and had a .466 batting average with a record breaking 52 RBIs.

IS: Can you tell us about your experience winning the championship this year in Austria?

Steven (3rd from right, second row) and his Attnang teammates celebrate the 2017 championship in Austria

SJ: This year winning the championship was such a great experience just like it was last year. I felt this year was a little harder just because we had a target on are backs all year and that never slowed us down to stopped us from competing. We had to go 7 games in the freezing cold and it was a close battle the final game till the 7th inning where we broke it open. But, the first 6 innings where such a grind but we never stopped or let up. Along with that our shortstop went down because of arm issues and got moved to the outfield. So, I had to play shortstop for both the semifinals and championship which was a little nerve racking since I hadn’t played shortstop since high school.

IS: What are some favorite spots you have traveled to?

Steve rockin’ the IS lid on his travels across Europe
SJ: I have been fortunate enough to have traveled to Grado (Italy), Prague (Czech Republic), Vienna (Austria), Salzburg (Austria), All over Germany, Brisbane (Australia). My favorite spot would be Salzburg Austria. Its where Mozart was born and grew up also where the movie Sound of Music was filmed. It’s a beautiful fun college town with a fun night life but still has that old European historical feel about it. There is a huge castle there also with beautiful views of the city and surrounding areas.

IS: A favorite question we like to ask guys is what kind of music are you listening to or have you discovered while playing abroad?

SJ: I am used to listening to anything really before so there wasn’t to much of a difference. I did listen to some German and Dutch rap along with a little yodeling which was really interesting to listen to.

IS: Do you have a favorite experience in playing baseball overseas?
Steven showing off his stroke in the Austrian league championships

SJ: My favorite memory overseas so far was winning the Austrian championship last year in 2016. The reason why is because in the first round of playoffs we were the 1 seed playing the 4th seed in a 7 game series. We lost the first three games and had to play 2 more games at their place before coming back home. In the fourth game we were losing 3 to 2 in the top of the 9th 2 outs 0-2 count bases loaded. I had thought are season was over. He worked a walked and we tied and the next batter walked we went up 4 to 3. I had been pitching that game and had given up 1 earned run and went out for the 9th inning and shut the door. We ended up winning 3 straight gamed and going on to win the championship. It was one of the craziest experiences I’ve ever been apart on a baseball team. Literally one strike away to winning a championship. I’ll never forget that summer or that team.

IS:  What can you tell us about your experience with the International Stars program?
SJ: I was fortunate enough to play for the International Stars for both years I was in Europe. I didn’t know what to expect at first. When I first got there it was nice to see other Americans and other imports from all over the world playing together for one team. The greatest thing about it is that you meet players and start hearing their stories and trials they have been through to be where they are at. You make friends for life when you play for a team like the International Stars. It’s a great program to help players show their talents and promote their talents.