October 15, 2019
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Former ace pitcher who went on to the majors set for induction into UMaine Sports Hall of Fame

Stock image | Pixabay
Stock image | Pixabay

He will never forget the look on head coach John Winkin’s face.

Right-hander Joe Johnson had just pitched the University of Maine to a 6-0 victory over Cal State Fullerton in an elimination game at the 1982 College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.

UMaine had gone 0-2 at the CWS the previous year and lost its ’82 opener to Miami.

“He was so excited. I was so happy for coach Winkin. The expression on his face and his joy were amazing,” said the 57-year-old Johnson, who on Friday night at Jeff’s Catering in Brewer will be inducted into the University of Maine Sports Hall of Fame.

After Johnson’s CWS win, Billy Swift pitched UMaine to an 8-5 victory over Stanford before the Black Bears were eliminated by eventual national champion Miami 10-4.

Courtesy of Joe Johnson
Courtesy of Joe Johnson
Joe Johnson

“We won the game, which was great for the team, but it seemed to be bigger than that. It was great for the school and the whole state of Maine. We had a lot of support throughout the whole state,” Johnson added. “We just wanted to show we belonged there.”

Johnson, a native of Plainville, Massachusetts, compiled an 18-10 record in three seasons at UMaine before being drafted in the second round by the Atlanta Braves and signing with them.

“The day after I pitched the shutout was the draft. Everything just kind of fell into place,” Johnson said.

He pitched in 62 major league games from 1985-1987, compiling a 20-18 record and a 4.48 earned run average. Johnson was 13-9 in 1986 in stints with Atlanta and Toronto.

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“I didn’t last that long at that level,” Johnson said. “I came up with a sore elbow. It wasn’t bad enough to have surgery but I wasn’t able to stay at that level.”

Johnson went 11-11 with Class AAA Edmonton (California Angels) in 1988, but didn’t get called up.

“Then I tore my Achilles tendon and missed a full year. I came back and pitched one year in Pawtucket (the Boston Red Sox’s AAA team). “

Johnson was 6-7 there with a 5.16 ERA in 1990 and decided to retire.

Johnson has done a variety of things since retiring from baseball, including working in construction, running an after-school sports program for kids and driving for a medical delivery company, Now Delivery. He still drives for Now Delivery on a part-time basis.

He said he had a blast playing at UMaine, especially in terms of the players’ unselfishness and camaraderies compared to pro ball.

“Everybody did what he could to help the team [win],” Johnson said. “I remember Dick Whitten handing me my jacket every time I came off the field in the World Series. He was a good player. What a team player he was!”

Johnson, a former King Philip Regional High School star, featured a live fastball and nasty breaking pitch. He credited Winkin and his focus on fundamentals for enabling the Black Bears to overcome the long, cold winters and compete with the best teams in the country.

“Nobody fooled around during our winter workouts [inside the field house],” Johnson said. “We got all our fundamentals down inside.”

Johnson’s high school coach had collaborated with him to write letters to all the major schools he was interested in, including Florida State, Miami, Texas and Arizona State.

“The only letter we got back was from Florida State and they said thank you for your interest in our program but …,” Johnson said. “Coach Winkin pursued me. I came up and met the team. They said they really wanted me to come here. It was nice to be wanted.”

Johnson lives in Attleboro, Massachusetts, with wife Susan. They have three children, sons Drew (33) and Luke (29) and daughter April (19).

He is honored to be going into the hall of fame and looks forward to meeting the other inductees. He is the 24th member of the baseball program to be inducted.

This year’s list of inductees includes:

—10-time American East champion and two-time track All-American Corey Conner, the first UMaine woman to compete in seven NCAA championship events.

—All-New England soccer player Ben Spike, the school’s all-time leader in goals (26) and points (58).

—Two-time All-America East women’s soccer team pick and AE Rookie of the Year Heather Hathorn Driscoll, the school’s all-time career leader in goals (35) and points (84).

—Two-time field hockey All-American and 2010 America East Offensive Player of the Year Kelly Newton, who held school records for goals (57), assists (49) and points (169).

—The late Justin Strzelczyk, an All-American lineman who went on to have a 133-game career in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

—Nine-time track and cross country letterwinner Jerry Ellis, the recipient of two Bronze Stars for his service in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.

—The 1965 UMaine football team, the only Black Bears team to appear in a bowl game — the Tangerine Bowl — after winning the Yankee Conference championship.

 



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