Bearcat on the Bayou
HEADING SOUTH: W.F. West Alum Signed to Play Baseball at Southeastern Louisiana
By Matt Baide
After two years playing baseball at Tacoma Community College, Elijah Johnson is packing his bags and heading south to play baseball at Southeastern Louisiana University next season.
A standout for the W.F. West Bearcats for four seasons, Johnson finished out his prep career in 2016 as the star shortstop. Following the season, it took a while for Johnson to figure out where he would play baseball in college.
“I kind of started late in the summer. I’d been talking to Lower Columbia and Centralia. Keylen Steen went to Tacoma and Ty Housden did too,” Johnson said. “I started talking to them and got a hold of the coach, coach Mummert, and then I went up there and absolutely loved it. I thought I had a good chance to play and get better so it was pretty easy choice after that. It fell right in my lap which was awesome.”
Coming into Tacoma, there was an adjustment period for Johnson as he got used to focusing all of his time on one sport instead of multiple sports throughout his high school career.
“Playing baseball for the whole year, it was kind of a learning experience for me, just working hard at one sport and getting better at that and not having other stuff to worry about I guess besides school,” Johnson said. “It’s a ton of time in baseball. That was definitely a big adjustment because it’s every day, every single day. You’re out there and trying to get better at what you’re doing.”
Not only was playing one sport something Johnson had to adapt to, he also had to work to earn his place on the team.
“More pressure I think, you’re not given the spot, not saying that high school was given to me or anything but it was like you have to earn it every single day,” Johnson said. “I split time with a kid at third and that was tough. I didn’t play well early in the season so that took a toll. I picked it up at the end which was nice which set me up for the next year, which was good.”
In his freshman campaign, Johnson played in 30 games, hitting .229 with three doubles, a triple, a home run and 13 RBIs.
“My freshman year was a little tougher too because I’ve always thought of myself as a good leader,” Johnson said. “It was kind of taking that back seat and learning how to follow but also producing while you follow and stuff.”
On defense, Johnson had to adjust to playing third base after playing shortstop during his high school career.
“It was tough, going through short, playing short pretty much all my life it was hard to adjust to third,” Johnson said. “Just the timing of it, you’re either coming in hard on a softly hit ball or a bunt or you are taking a step back on a ball that’s just a laser beam. It was an adjustment for sure but I’m definitely way more comfortable at third although I can still play the two other spots up the middle too so that’s always a plus.”
The Trojans had a great regular season in 2017, going 30-17 and earning a berth into the NWAC Championship tournament. Tacoma lost their opening game of the tournament to Columbia Basin 2-1, but rebounded for a win in an elimination game 19-8 over Linn-Benton. Tacoma was eliminated in the next game, falling to Everett 8-7 in 15 innings.
“It was awesome. There’s a lot of people, a lot at stake. We didn’t do quite as well as we wanted to but it was definitely fun playing the last game against Everett, we went 15 innings,” Johnson said. “That’s the longest game I’ve ever played in my life, it seemed like it never ended. It was a blast for sure and we got to stay down in Longview. It was fun to go down there for five days and we got to hang out and go watch games and eat really good food and stuff. It was awesome.”
Johnson has played in big games before with the Bearcats, but playing in an NWAC tournament game was a new experience.
“There’s a lot less room for error. Usually at that point in the season, you’re expected to have everything dialed in late in the spring and stuff,” Johnson said. “I really enjoyed it, I performed pretty well and the guys, we just had a blast down there. It was pretty stressful and all those teams down there, those were the final eight teams in the NWAC. Everybody’s good down there.”
During the summer between his freshman and sophomore year, Johnson worked on his game, specifically hitting.
“Just being more consistent with fielding but mostly the hitting piece of it because it’s so hard to hit a baseball. I really took a step forward last summer. It was less about worrying about being perfect and worrying more about hitting the ball hard and being more consistent with it and being the guy that people can count on and stuff,” Johnson said. “That was the biggest thing I learned from freshman to sophomore year was you don’t have to be perfect. You just have to get the job done and be a good teammate and a leader and stuff like that.”
Johnson also focused on trying to be more of a leader as a sophomore.
“I feel like I was more of the silent leader. I didn’t talk a ton, which I was kind of used to in high school. I was a little more vocal but it was good how we had it. We had three main guys up in that area from the Puyallup area,” Johnson said. “They assumed more of the vocal get together with the coach kind of leadership and I felt like I had good relationships with the team. I felt like guys could come talk to me and lean on me because they saw how I worked and how dedicated I was to the team and my craft and stuff. I definitely stepped up a little more my sophomore year and I was more of a leadership, a figurehead you could call it.”
In Johnson’s sophomore season, Tacoma was 34-10 overall and finished second in the West Region.
Johnson stepped up his game as a sophomore, playing in 44 games while collecting a .289 batting average. He had 37 hits including 11 doubles and two home runs and was second on the team with 37 RBIs and 25 walks.
“As a team, we started off hot, really really hot, I think we were 20-5 going into the regular season. We just kind of took a step back, we put a little too much pressure on ourselves instead of letting it ride, knowing that we worked really hard and we are really talented,” Johnson said. “I think we just kind of tightened up and I don’t know, it was a great season.”
The team qualified for the Super Regionals, but lost two games to Big Bend to end the season.
“I felt like we had a lot more. I think that was directly related to personally how my season went,” Johnson said. “We started off really hot again, and then regular season rolled around and I was thinking too much and I was pressing and it’s hard when you don’t have success, you start pressing more and more and start gripping that bat tighter and then the results, they don’t come when you’re like that so when playoffs rolled around, I kind of let myself relax a little bit more and do what I do and I had better success at the end too a little bit.”
Looking back on his time at Tacoma, Johnson is pleased with how his two years transpired.
“I loved every second. I have great relationships with the guys that I played with and everything. Ultimately, you’re trying to move onto the next level I guess but that’s not an excuse to not perform there,” Johnson said. “I wish we would have done a little bit better and I think coach Mummert deserves a higher placing and stuff because he’s a great coach and gets great talent there and everything. I think we could have done it for him too, but yeah, I loved it. I got better as a baseball player definitely and developed. As a whole, I think it was a very positive thing for sure.”
In his time at Tacoma, he was able to come back and play at Wheeler Field twice a year. Having played quite a few games at Wheeler during his prep career, it was always nice to come back to the Twin Cities and play in front of family and friends.
“(The team) was excited about the urinals. It’s a pretty normal thing but the playing field, it’s getting way better down there too,” Johnson said. “Even when I was in high school, my senior year, it’s a lot better than it was my senior year even. It was definitely a good experience, having family, my grandparents they would come up to Tacoma every once in a while but it was definitely more people and people would come up to me after the game. It was a pretty fun experience.”
During his sophomore season, Johnson was talking to schools to play baseball in the 2018-19 season.
“I think it was a little bit more stressful, just because it’s so hard to find a good fit, especially because it was a long process. I had a good fall and I was talking to some schools in the fall,” Johnson said. “I was happy because I was playing obviously and I was trying to put more numbers up. So when the end of the spring rolled around after the season was over, I think it was two or three weeks before I signed and it was stressful and it was hard because I wasn’t playing baseball at the time so I was thinking about it all the time. My summer hadn’t started getting going yet, it was good because I’m ending up at a great place and a fit for me. I love the coaches, love the atmosphere, love the area, so it’s going to be pretty cool for sure.”
Southeastern Louisiana is located in Hammond, La., about an hour north of New Orleans. The Lions were 37-22 last season, falling to Nicholls in the Southland Conference baseball tournament to end the season.
“The field is gorgeous, they average 1,500 fans a game down there. That’s non-league included, just non important games, they just show out,” Johnson said. “They want me to come in and play third base. They want me to be a middle of the order guy. They want me to run and stuff, it was a great fit for me. It fell into my lap and super thankful and blessed and everything.”
Justin Simanek, a teammate of Johnson’s at Tacoma, signed in the fall with SE Louisiana.
Currently, Johnson is in Anaheim playing in an independent baseball league and working with a hitting coach. He will come back to Washington on July 26 before packing up and flying to Louisiana and be in Hammond by Aug. 9.
Johnson is majoring in business while playing for the Lions. His goal for playing at Southeastern Louisiana is simple: become a better baseball player.
“I just want to help the team win. I want to become a more confident baseball player, a more consistent baseball player,” Johnson said. “I obviously want to be a leader on the team and just perform and be a great baseball player down there.”