During his three years on Naches Valley’s varsity baseball team, Koleman Johns seems to have done it all. Batting leadoff or batting cleanup. Covering centerfield or stealing bases. Being the unhittable closer or the unbeatable ace. Spectating is even on his resume.
Yes, spectating. And for most of his junior season. That part still stings — the what-ifs of a nearly lost spring — but it also fueled a work ethic that pushed his senior year to a level it might not otherwise have reached. Which this weekend means the All-State Baseball Series in Yakima.
In the first game of Naches Valley’s 2012 season, Johns sprinted out of the box attempting to beat out a throw for an infield hit. But he lost his footing on the base line, fell and badly injured his shoulder. His right shoulder, as chance would have it, the one he planned to do a lot of pitching with.
“At first I had no idea of the severity or how long I’d be out,” he said. “But it hurt so bad and I could hardly throw a ball. I was just hoping I wasn’t done.”
Down for a month, but not out. Johns was able to return by the end of league play but only in a relief role. What was remarkable wasn’t the speedy recovery, it was how sharp and effective he was as the Rangers charged into the Class 1A state title game.
“It was hard to tell what to expect when he came back,” recalled NV coach Bill Walker. “But once healthy he was flat out dominating in postseason.”
In four district and state games, Johns didn’t allow a run and only two hits over 72/3 innings. He struck out 17.
“It was a bad strain in my shoulder, but I did a lot of band work to strengthen it and worked hard every day,” he said. “I was so glad to be back out there, especially at that time of the season. I was definitely surprised to pitch that well after the layoff.”
Even as a small sample, those numbers were a good indication of things to come.
Having navigated summer baseball, football and basketball without further injury, Johns produced a stellar senior campaign, posting a 12-0 record with an 0.30 earned-run average and a whopping 133 strikeouts over 69 innings. Throw in a .390 average batting clean-up and Naches Valley had its fifth consecutive SCAC West most valuable player.
“As a senior I knew I was expected to be a leader and a big part of our season, so I made sure I put in the work. I couldn’t have another injury,” he said. “We didn’t have many seniors so that made it even more important.”
Part of that work was a full season of football, which some saw as risky but Johns saw as key to his athletic development. He showed plenty of that as a two-way all-league player who caught 61 passes for 1,007 yards — both school records. As a result, Johns will double up his all-star events this month by playing in the Earl Barden Classic on June 22.
“A lot of people told me I probably shouldn’t play football,” he said. “But it keeps me in shape and keeps me in the weightroom. And it’s a lot of fun. The all-star (football) game should be a blast.”
Before another summer with the Yakima Valley Pepsi Pak, and before heading off to Bellevue Community College to play with former Pak teammates Noel Gonzalez and Kurt Lindemann, Johns will wear his Naches Valley baseball uniform one last time this weekend. It will be an occasion made all the more special with longtime battery mate Ben Wells on the same All-State squad.
And Johns will complete his Rangers attire with a generous application of his trademark eye black.
“It’s for the glare, somewhat,” he said. “But mostly it gets me into the game. Every player has something that gets them focused. For me, the eye black signifies I’m ready — it’s time to play.”