Friday, March 7, 2014
By Glenn Jordan email@example.com
The original face of the Portland Sea Dogs is returning to Hadlock Field.
Charles Johnson, on his way to a 12-year career in the major leagues, had a memorable season with the first-year Sea Dogs, leading the Eastern League with 28 home runs.
1997 File Photo/John Ewing
Charles Johnson won the 1994 Eastern League home run title for the inaugural Sea Dogs and went on to a 12-year career in the major leagues. Now a retired 41-year-old father of two living in his native Florida, Johnson is among a group of former Sea Dogs gathering Thursday to celebrate the 20th season of the Double-A franchise.
"I really enjoyed it," Johnson said of his season in Portland, which resulted in 28 homers, an EL All-Star game appearance and a four-game call-up to the Florida Marlins in May to replace a suspended Benito Santiago at catcher. "The people (in Portland) were very nice to all the players there. They were really warm and receptive. Even on days you were thinking nobody would come out to the ballpark, they would come out to watch minor league baseball."
The Sea Dogs filled a void in Portland, where professional baseball had been absent since the 1949 Portland Pilots. Fans flocked to Hadlock Field, which led the league in attendance even with a team that finished 60-81.
The Sea Dogs were part of the Florida organization for nine years before switching to their current partners in Boston. The expansion Marlins made Johnson their first draft pick in 1992, out of the University of Miami.
His manager in 1993 (Class A Kane County, Ill.) and 1994 was Carlos Tosca, who spent three years as the Portland manager and is currently bench coach in Atlanta for his Sea Dogs successor, Fredi Gonzalez.
Johnson bumped into Tosca many times during their major league careers, which for Johnson included stints with the Dodgers, Orioles, White Sox and Rockies, in addition to two terms with the Marlins before Tampa Bay released him in June 2005.
"I still felt like I could play," he said of finding himself out of work at age 33. "But at the time I couldn't find a job. I had an offer to play in the minors but I didn't want to go that route. I just decided I would wait it out until the following spring, but no one else picked me up."
Johnson and his wife, Rhonda, (they were married after his season in Portland), have two sons. Brandon is a 14-year-old high school freshman who plays football and basketball. Twelve-year-old Beaux plays football and baseball, usually third base or left field but in this, his last year of Little League, he took up catching.
Charles Johnson won four Gold Gloves at catcher in his first four seasons in the majors, including an errorless 1997 season culminating in a World Series championship. Older fans in Portland may remember not just his powerful arm but his intelligence in shutting down an opposing running game.
On a double-steal attempt with runners on first and second, Johnson always made the longer throw to second to nab the trailing runner.
"Even though that guy on first gets the steal sign, he doesn't know if the guy on second received the sign," Johnson said with a knowing laugh.
"He's still going to wait and see and be a step late all the time. That's the guy you can get easily."
Johnson still keeps in touch with a few of his old Sea Dogs teammates, including former roommate Vic Darensbourg and Eddie Christian. His parents still live up the coast in Fort Pierce, Fla. Rhonda operates a boutique in Plantation called Paper Niche that specializes in scrapbooking, invitations and gifts.
(Continued on page 2)