There are few places Jared Johnson would rather be than at the ball park.
This summer, the 29-year-old’s passion for baseball will be put to use as the new head coach of the Kelowna Jays.
Johnson, who has served as an assistant to Geoff White with the Okanagan College Coyotes the last six seasons, decided the time was right to take another step forward in his coaching career.
“Until I worked with Geoff and the Coyotes, I had never really considered getting involved with the coaching side of the game,” said Johnson. “I found that I really enjoyed it, and now it’s something I want to see if I can do over the long term. I’m excited to get this chance with the Jays.”
Raised in Kelowna, Johnson came up through the city’s minor baseball system.
The promise he showed as a young pitcher eventually led to opportunities south of the border where he played at both Central Arizona and Benedictine University, where he earned his college degree.
Johnson was also chosen twice in the Major League Baseball draft by the Miami Marlins, in 2003 and again in 2005.
Though a pro career didn’t follow, Johnson continued to excel at whatever level he played at, turning himself into both a solid shortstop and an effective power hitter. Johnson also played with Canada at the World Baseball Challenge in 2011 where he hit a pair of home runs.
After playing the last several summers with the Jays, Johnson plans to spend considerably less time on the field in 2014 to devote more time to his coaching duties.
“You can’t beat going to the ball park, I’ve been doing it so many years as a player, now I’m looking forward to doing it as a coach,” said the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Johnson. “I really get enjoyment from seeing players excelling, so I’m looking forward to that part of it. My focus is now on coaching.”
On the Jays’ roster, about half of the players are in the 18- to 19-year-old range and are from the OC Coyotes’ program, while the other half range from their early to mid 20s. Members of the Okanagan Major Baseball League, the Jays will play about 40 games this season, including many of those against teams from Vernon, Kamloops, Trail and Burnaby.
Still relatively inexperienced as a head coach, Johnson admits he has plenty to learn and is eager to improve his craft on a daily basis.
Jays’ president Bill Bayne sees the locally-grown Johnson as the ideal fit for the position.
“Jared has been associated with high caliber baseball in Kelowna for many years, both as a player and a coach, and the Jays feel that the time is right for him to become an integral part of the organization,” said Bayne. “Jared has been a valuable part of the OC coaching staff, providing many young college players with quality instruction and guidance and the Jays are confident that he will make a similar contribution.”
And what kind of a coach does Johnson consider himself to be ?
“I like to think I’m a player’s coach,” said Johnson, who owns a home in Kelowna. “I want the guys to have fun, feel comfortable and play some good baseball at the same time. I think at this level, it’s about building relationships and growing together as a team.”
If the Jays early-season results are any indication, then Johnson’s approach is working well.
Kelowna is 8-3 so far this season, following a two-game split over the weekend at Elks Stadium with the Northwest Honkers.
In the opener, OC pitcher Zac Burlon tossed a complete-game three hitter and rookie catcher Brock Chilton had two RBIs in a 2-0 Jays win.
In Game 2, coach Johnson had a single, a double and two walks in a 5-1 loss.
This week, the WCA Jays will face the Okanagan Athletics in an exhibition game, Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Elks.
Then this coming weekend, Kelowna will host the Burnaby Collegiate Bulldogs for a doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday.