The Feature Star for the Fall of 2017 is American Steven Johnson for played for Attnang-Puchheim Athletics in the Austrian First Division, leading them to their 2nd consecutive championship crown in 2017. Johnson first participated with the International Stars at Prague Baseball Week 2016 and followed it up with another stellar performance both on the mound and at the plate in 2017. In being named the Fall Feature Star for 2017, Johnson put up some ridiculous numbers for Attnang this season both on the mound and at the plate. He compiled a Won-Loss record of 9-2 in 87 Innings Pitched, striking out 114 batters while only walking 15 with a stellar 2.69 E.R.A. Showing why he was named the International Baseball Community’s top 2-way player of 2017 he did just as much, if not more damage, at the plate. Johnson hit a robust .466 with a .563 OBP and Slugged .886 with 9 Home Runs and 52 RBI in the Austrian league. Continue below to read our interview with Steven and how he went from undrafted and injured to productive Independent Ball player to International Super-Star in Australia and Europe….
International Stars (IS): First, can you tell us a bit about your background/story… Where did you grow up, where did you play college ball at, what teams have you played for overseas?
Steven Johnson (SJ): I grew up in the country about 30 minutes outside of Chico, California. I played high school baseball for the Pleasant Valley Vikings. After the Vikings I played one season at Butte Community College. Once I finished one year at Butte I transferred to Feather River Community College where we won the Golden Valley Conference title. I pitched and played the outfield both years at community college.
I received a scholarship to go play for Avila University in Kansas City Missouri. I played there for 2 years as a closer and a starting pitcher. I won one conference title and was the first pitcher in school history to throw a complete game shutout in the super regional playoffs. College ended and I went to pursue my career in independent professional baseball in Sonoma for the Sonoma Stompers. Three days before opening day I strained my UCL. I didn’t need Tommy John but needed to sit out the summer. I rehabbed and made a full recovery and decided to go play for the Alpine Cowboys in Texas for the Pecos League. During that season we won our conference and I was the first out of bullpen with 60+ innings with 8 wins. When that season ended I was asked if I wanted to go play for a team in Australia for the winter. I played for the Carina Redsox in Brisbane Australia where I received MVP of the team. I then met David Burns who signed me to a contract to play for the Attnang Athletics in Austria. I played there my last 2 seasons and won the championship both years while receiving a few accolades. I am now about to play a summer in Canada for the Moncton Fisher Cats.
IS: What are some of the adjustments that you’ve had to make in your lifestyle or on the field while playing overseas?
SJ: The biggest adjustment in playing overseas is the routine. When I played in Texas we played a game everyday for 3 months. In Europe you usually just play on the weekends with a day or 2 of practice during the week. In Texas it was easy to get into a routine and stay strong and keep everything in good working shape. In Europe when you have a bunch of free time and all these new distractions around you its easy to lose focus why your there in the first place. For me its important to both enjoy the moment and see things but also perform and do what I was brought to that team to do. So managing your time is a little different in Europe then the US.
IS: Who or what do you credit for your success in your overseas playing career?
IS: Can you tell us about your experience winning the championship this year in Austria?
SJ: This year winning the championship was such a great experience just like it was last year. I felt this year was a little harder just because we had a target on are backs all year and that never slowed us down to stopped us from competing. We had to go 7 games in the freezing cold and it was a close battle the final game till the 7th inning where we broke it open. But, the first 6 innings where such a grind but we never stopped or let up. Along with that our shortstop went down because of arm issues and got moved to the outfield. So, I had to play shortstop for both the semifinals and championship which was a little nerve racking since I hadn’t played shortstop since high school.
IS: What are some favorite spots you have traveled to?
IS: A favorite question we like to ask guys is what kind of music are you listening to or have you discovered while playing abroad?
SJ: I am used to listening to anything really before so there wasn’t to much of a difference. I did listen to some German and Dutch rap along with a little yodeling which was really interesting to listen to.
SJ: My favorite memory overseas so far was winning the Austrian championship last year in 2016. The reason why is because in the first round of playoffs we were the 1 seed playing the 4th seed in a 7 game series. We lost the first three games and had to play 2 more games at their place before coming back home. In the fourth game we were losing 3 to 2 in the top of the 9th 2 outs 0-2 count bases loaded. I had thought are season was over. He worked a walked and we tied and the next batter walked we went up 4 to 3. I had been pitching that game and had given up 1 earned run and went out for the 9th inning and shut the door. We ended up winning 3 straight gamed and going on to win the championship. It was one of the craziest experiences I’ve ever been apart on a baseball team. Literally one strike away to winning a championship. I’ll never forget that summer or that team.