Joe Christensen's Sunday Insider: Josh Johnson a Minnesota Marlin

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 15, 2011 - 1:15 AM

At 27, Florida righthander Josh Johnson, born in Minneapolis, is one of the hottest pitchers on the planet.

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Marlins righthander Josh Johnson, who leads the majors with his 1.63 ERA, was born in Minnesota but moved to Oklahoma at age 5. He is 3-1 this season and 48-23 in his young career.

Photo: John Bazemore, Associated Press - Ap

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Florida Marlins ace Josh Johnson was 3 years old when the Twins won the 1987 World Series.

He and his four brothers attended the victory parade in downtown Minneapolis.

"Mom let us skip school," Johnson's brother, Ryan, recalled this week. "We were in the front row, shaking hands."

Maybe Frank Viola or Bert Blyleven reached down and transferred some pitching prowess into young Josh's right arm. Johnson is 27 now, and he's one of the hottest pitchers on the planet.

The 6-7 righthander leads the majors with a 1.63 ERA. Last week, he locked horns with reigning Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay and helped the Marlins defeat the Phillies 2-1.

"It's almost kind of mind-blowing how well he's doing," said Ryan Johnson, 35, the oldest of the five brothers, who are all spaced about two years apart.

At the rate he's going, Johnson has a chance to join Jack Morris, Jerry Koosman and Hall of Famer Chief Bender on the list of the greatest Minnesota-born pitchers. It's a story not often told, because Johnson's family moved to Tulsa, Okla., when he was 5.

Johnson didn't start pitching until his sophomore year at Jenks High School. The Marlins signed him as a fourth-round draft pick in 2002, and he has overcome Tommy John elbow surgery to become a two-time All-Star.

His fastball averages 94 miles per hour, and he combines that with a superb slider, a curveball and a solid changeup.

Johnson, who was born at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, learned much of his competitiveness from his brothers.

"He was the last one in the pecking order, so he got picked on by everyone," Ryan Johnson said.

Before moving to Oklahoma in 1989, the Johnsons lived in south Minneapolis near Minnehaha Falls. The brothers all played baseball and basketball. Sometimes they played hockey at Hiawatha Park. Had the family stayed, the boys would have attended Minneapolis Roosevelt High School.

They moved because their father, Allen Johnson, took a transfer to Tulsa with the Williams natural gas company.

"We have great memories from up there," Ryan Johnson said. "My grandparents on my mom's side lived in Minnetonka, and we used to go back for Christmas."

Ryan, who was 13 when the family moved, returned to play basketball at Normandale Community College and the University of Minnesota-Crookston. He works for a video game development company in Tulsa.

The middle brother, Micah, now lives in the Twin Cities. He has Twins season tickets, but his eyes are often on the out-of-town scoreboard, especially when his brother is pitching for the Marlins.

Johnson is in the second year of a four-year, $39 million contract. The Marlins, whose $57 million payroll is the seventh-lowest in the majors, have been one of baseball's biggest surprises this year. Their new, retractable-roof stadium in Miami is scheduled to open next year.

So it's an exciting time for baseball in South Florida, and a Minnesota native is helping to lead the charge.

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