Orange Park Coach Is Right Where He Wants to Be

Article excerpt

Byline: BILL JOHNSON

Orange Park High School baseball coach Michael Johns has had a few opportunities to move up in his profession, but he thinks he's done enough moving.

"I really can't envision myself going anywhere else," the 32-year-old bachelor said while preparing for his fifth year with the Raiders. "I just like being here."

"Moving up" from a 6A high school coaching job means going to a college or even the pros, where the pay gets higher, the profile gets larger, but, oft times, job longevity can be measured within the life span of a fruit fly.

"I'm kind of tired of the road," said the Fernandina Beach native.

Johns, who graduated Fernandina Beach High School in 1993, played shortstop for the Pirates and said he was "just good enough to pay for my college education."

Actually, he was a bit better than that.

After two years at Polk Community College in Winter Haven and two years at Tulane University in New Orleans, Johns was drafted 19th in the 1997 Major League Baseball draft and played two seasons for the Colorado Rockies' Single A teams in Portland, Ore., and Asheville, N.C.

The coach admits he was never a "great hitter," but he made up for that by getting on base and timely hitting. In Portland, the Beavers captured the Northwest League title on his game-winning homer off a pitcher (Matt Wise) who went on to play for the Anaheim Angels. At Tulane, Johns made the All-Conference USA team both years he was there and helped the Green Wave win two conference titles.

Yet Johns insists he was simply the lucky beneficiary of the talented teammates around him.

After a third pro season playing in an independent league in Allentown, Pa., Johns decided it was time to come home. In 1999, he took a teaching job at his alma mater in Fernandina Beach and became an assistant to his former high school coach, Ken Roland.

In 2003, then-Orange Park Athletic Director John Green had heard enough good things about the young Fernandina assistant to make him the new Raiders head coach.

Johns said that while he thinks the Orange Park baseball program has made steady progress in his four years at the helm, he knows that making the state playoffs is the real proof that a program is successful. …