Rob Johnson's long, painful journey back to Mariners
Mariners' catcher Rob Johnson will start opening day after enduring knifing pain from bone spurs and torn tissue in both hips. How he came back from multiple surgeries surprised both himself and his manager.
Seattle Times staff columnist
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The pain started in early May. Rob Johnson had trouble stretching, couldn't get his hips loose.
He tried stretching more and when that didn't work, he did his best to ignore the pain, which is like ignoring the shrieking baby in the seat next to you on a cross-country flight.
"Don't surrender to the pain," he told himself. "Mind over matter."
And, most important, the Mariners' catcher thought, "Make sure you don't tell the skipper. Don't let him see your pain."
It had taken Johnson six years to get to the big leagues. Nothing had come to him easily and now that he was there, he wasn't about to let the pain in his hip keep him on the bench. Not at this point in his career.
"I wanted to help the team," Johnson said, "and I still thought I could."
He had bone spurs in his hips. He had torn labrums in both hips. Every time he went into his crouch, every time he dropped to block a pitch in the dirt, every time he swung a bat or ran the bases, the pain in both his hips knifed through his legs.
But, best as he could, Johnson hid the hurt.
"I was in a lot of pain," Johnson said, "but when you step on the field and there are 40,000 people out there, all your adrenaline starts going and you tend to put the pain in the back of your mind.
"I think that my body can take a lot more pain than his mind thinks it can, so I pushed it all aside and went out there and battled."
In his first full big-league season, Johnson, 27, caught 80 games. He led the majors and set a club with a 3.22 catcher's earned-run average.
"I can't even imagine how he did it," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "I knew he was hurt at times, but I didn't know the extent of it. Sometimes he wouldn't let on, and I had no idea he needed hip surgery.
"The hips are such a big part of catching. But you started seeing that it started hindering him offensively. He didn't have range of motion or flexibility."
Before Friday's exhibition game with Colorado, Wakamatsu had a talk with Johnson. The theme was letting the club know when you are hurt.
"I told him, 'Let's not go down that road this year,' " Wakamatsu said. "If there's pain, we need to catch it in time. We have the flexibility (with Adam Moore) that we can rest guys on certain times."
Wakamatsu was a catcher. He understands the mentality of a kid like Johnson scrapping to stay in the big leagues. He knows that every catcher has pain and part of being successful at the job is managing the pain.
"He's a tough kid, number one," Wakamatsu said. "And that was his first year up here and he wanted to maintain it. I think with a lot of guys, the thought process is, 'Can we maintain it? Can we get through the year, then deal with the injury in the winter?' "
Going into the surgery, doctors weren't sure how much damage Johnson had done to his hips. The images on the MRI didn't tell the complete story.
"I was a little worried," Johnson said. "Those are two major surgeries, and there are so many things that can go wrong and so many little muscles that are involved. Before they knocked me out, they just said to me, 'We'll see how it goes.' "
For the first month after the surgery Johnson couldn't lift his legs. He shuffled to rehabilitation.
"I thought, 'Man this is bad,' " Johnson said. "I was a little distraught."
But, as he diligently went day-after-day through the arduous process of getting better, Johnson could feel his strength returning.
"There are things you go through in your life and you have to try to take them in stride," he said. "Things are going to happen. There are going to be these troubles in your life. There are trials that you go through.
"You have to stick with what you believe in. And you have to believe in yourself. I just continued to grind and I went into every day with a positive thought that I was going to get better today."
Johnson has come all the way back. He will catch Felix Hernandez when the Mariners open the season Monday in Oakland. It will be his first big-league opening-day start.
"It was a long road back. It was only five months, but it felt like a lot longer," he said. "But all of those thoughts are behind me now. I'm pain free and I feel blessed."
And he no longer has anything to hide.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
|Ichiro rf||3||2||1||0||C.Gonzalez rf||3||1||1||1|
|J.Jones rf||2||0||1||1||C.Garner rf||2||1||1||1|
|Figgins 2b||4||2||2||3||Fowler cf||4||0||0||0|
|Woodwrd 2b||2||0||0||0||Mora 1b||3||0||2||0|
|Kotchman 1b||4||1||2||2||Eldred pr-1b||2||2||2||1|
|Everidge 1b||1||0||0||0||Tulowitzki ss||3||1||2||0|
|Sweeney dh||2||1||1||0||Herrera pr-ss||2||1||1||0|
|Johnson ph||2||0||1||1||Hawpe dh||3||1||2||3|
|Lopez 3b||3||2||2||0||Olivo ph-dh||2||0||0||0|
|JoWilsn 3b-ss||1||0||0||0||Iannetta c||3||0||2||1|
|Gutierrez cf||4||0||2||2||J.Pacheco c||2||0||1||0|
|Langerhns cf||1||0||0||0||Spilborghs lf||3||1||1||1|
|Byrnes lf||3||0||0||1||Payton lf||2||0||0||0|
|McOwen lf||0||0||0||0||I.Stewart 3b||2||0||0||0|
|Denker 3b||1||0||0||0||E.Young 2b||2||1||1||0|
|Moore c||4||1||1||0||Barmes 2b||3||1||2||0|
|Bard c||1||0||0||0||H.Gomez 3b||1||1||1||1|
|Seattle||401 420 000 — 11 17 1|
|Colorado||210 032 030 — 11 19 5|
E — J.Jones (1), Cook (1), Barmes (6), E.Young (4), Fowler (1), Tulowitzki (1). DP — Seattle 2, Colorado 1. LOB — Seattle 9, Colorado 6. 2B — Kotchman (4), Jo.Lopez (5), F.Gutierrez (2), Ja.Wilson (4), C.Garner (2), Eldred (2), Barmes 2 (6). 3B — Tuiasosopo (2), H.Gomez (3). HR — Figgins (1), C.Gonzalez (2), Eldred (4), Hawpe (1), Spilborghs (1). CS — Langerhans (2), Byrnes (2), Fowler (2). SF — Ro.Johnson, Byrnes.
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
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When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.