Nolan Johnson is the Minnesota State baseball team’s Joe Mauer, pre-2014.
Johnson is the Mavericks’ top hitter and primary catcher, playing in nearly every game. (OK, that’s where the comparison goes awry.)
“I do a lot of stretching,” Johnson said. “I want to play every game and contribute in any way I can. I know the pitchers, and I feel bad if I’m not out there with them.”
Johnson will be behind the plate and batting fourth when the Mavericks (41-9) take on Emporia State today in the opening round of the Central Region tournament at Russellville, Ark. The Mavericks are the defending champions in the double-elimination tournament, which runs through Sunday.
It’s the ninth straight national-tournament appearance for Minnesota State, and it will be the third time for Johnson.
“A lot of the guys were on the team last year, and I think that experience makes a big difference,” Johnson said. “These guys have played in a lot of important games.”
It was barely newsworthy when Johnson came to Minnesota State. He was a shortstop and quarterback during his high-school days at Bloomington Jefferson. A history of nagging injuries and concussions limited his options, and even during a redshirt season at Minnesota State, he suffered a concussion while catching in the bullpen.
“We definitely had a lot of questions,” Minnesota State coach Matt Magers said. “We’ve had a pretty good run of catchers here, but we just didn’t know if he’d be durable.”
Those fears were quickly eased. Working closely with assistant coach Tink Larson on catching skills, Johnson started 55 of 58 games as a freshman, then 47 of 49 as a sophomore. This season, he’s been back there in every game but one, not even taking time off during back-to-back doubleheaders.