Mark Johnson is a former Mets outfielder, first baseman, and designated hitter who played for the team from 2000 until 2002. This past week, I had the privilege of interviewing Johnson, who was at Cooperstown All-Star Village for the week with his son, Trevor.
“I didn’t find my jersey at the Hall of Fame,” joked Mark Johnson, who spent his week in Cooperstown with his son, Trevor. “I really hoped to see it,” he laughed.
Eight years after he played his last game in the Major Leagues, Johnson finally made it to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown. Johnson visited the Hall of Fame with his 12 year old baseball team, which competed at Cooperstown All-Star Village last week.
“It was my first time there. We had a great time and spent a couple hours there,” he said. “It was great learning how baseball first started out and how different it was back then,” he explained.
The feeling was mutual for his son, Trevor, as he also enjoyed his visit to the Hall. Trevor was preparing for a game when I saw him and he was nice enough to take a moment to tell me about his time in Cooperstown.
“I loved seeing all of the plaques of the players,” said Trevor. “My favorite part of the Hall of Fame was the Ted Williams display.”
Although coach Johnson witnessed some great displays of America’s rich baseball history during his visit to the Hall, he has also witnessed brilliant displays of America’s past time with his very own eyes. Spending six seasons in the bigs with the Pirates, Angels, and Mets, Johnson had played with and against several of the game’s top stars.
“When I was with the Mets, we had a great clubhouse,” recalled Johnson. “We had a great manager in Bobby Valentine. He was about as good as it gets and he was a great motivator,” said Johnson, who also said the players stepped up into leadership roles as well.
“We had several leadership players. John Franco, Todd Zeile, Robin Ventura, and even Mike Piazza were all great in the clubhouse”
Johnson said Piazza was a quiet, but cordial person who loved to joke around. However, he said it was difficult to go out with him at night because of his popularity.
“It is tough when you’re Mike Piazza,” he said. “We wanted to go out and get dinner and hang out, but people were all over him. People would notice him as soon as we arrived somewhere. It was tough for him once we got out of the locker room setting.”
Although it was difficult to go out with Piazza, the team still went out together and the clubhouse remained intact throughout Johnson’s tenure with the Mets. Johnson said ten to twelve players would go out together after games, whether it was home or on the road.
Little did the players know, the close clubhouse was crucial down the stretch because of the events of September 11, 2001. Mark Johnson was on the team at the time and shared with me his story.
“It was definitely special and unbelievably saddening,” he said. “We were on the road in Pittsburgh at the time, and when I woke up that morning, my wife called. All of the players gathered in a meeting room downstairs and we were just trying to figure out what happened. Everyone was shocked.”
Major League Baseball suspended play in the days following the attacks. When the team traveled back Pittsburgh, Johnson still clearly remembers the ride in.
“When we were driving back into (New York) city, we could see the smoke, debris, and lights on our way over the bridge. It was something I will never forget,” he added.
After baseball was suspended, the Mets were scheduled to play the first game back in New York since the attacks. The game was perhaps the most emotional game in Mets history. During the pre-game ceremony, many players and fans had tears in their eyes as they remembered those who lost their lives in the last week. It was difficult for everyone to flip the switch to baseball mode, but once the game began, it was all baseball. In a big spot late in that game against the rival Atlanta Braves, Piazza came through with the go-ahead home run that rocked Shea Stadium like never before.
“It was one of the best games I’ve ever been involved in,” said Johnson, who was on the Mets at the time. “With the whole atmosphere coming back, people really felt they could get back into it. Piazza has an incredible ability to perform when the pressure is on and we felt like we got the people jump started a little bit.”
Johnson said skipper Bobby Valentine, along with the rest of the Mets organization, did a great job of handling the people and being supportive throughout the difficult time. Johnson also acknowledged the job well done by the Yankees, who were facing similar obstacles.
“As a team, we tried to do as much as we could,” Johnson said. “We tried to spend as much time as possible with the people involved.”
As the dust began to settle, the Mets finished their season in third place. Johnson spent one more season with New York before he moved on from professional baseball. Johnson, who graduated from Dartmouth College, said he knew he wanted to be a trader when he retired from baseball. He went on to work on Wall Street, which is where he still works today.