Steve Johnson is a recently retired right-handed pitcher who amassed a 6-1 record and a 4.26 ERA over 76 major league innings in parts of four seasons with the Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners. The Baltimore native is the son of a successful pitcher on one of the best pitching staffs in the history of Major League Baseball (Dave Johnson). An avid gamer, Johnson recently took some time to talk about balancing his passion for video games with the demands of being a professional athlete.
When did you first realize you may have the physical gifts to be a professional athlete? Is it difficult to balance honing those skills with your hobbies?
It’s tough to say when I realized I was going to be good enough to play professionally. Fortunately, when I was a kid, I was always pretty good at whatever sport I played. The instincts just came naturally for me whether it be soccer, basketball, football and of course baseball. I think that all-around athletic ability growing up gave me a lot of confidence heading in to high school. I had a feeling that once I started getting serious about baseball that I’d have the ability to go pretty far.
I sacrificed some hobbies growing up but it wasn’t too bad. I really enjoyed playing sports and playing on different teams. I made a lot of different groups of friends. But I always made time to do what I wanted to do off the playing field.
Your dad was also a professional athlete. How did he help you develop your skills, and where did you guys differ on opinions for how to best help you advance your career?
My dad was a big part of my playing career. It’s easy to say he helped me with my mechanics and teaching me the game as a kid. But the real help came from being able to talk to someone about the ups and downs of professional baseball from someone who had been through that same grind. Having that person be my dad made it a lot easier to talk through things. I was able to talk to him after every start and talk about the outing and go over things I could work on or get better.
I think having him there to talk to really helped me deal with the mental side of the game which can be the hardest part of playing this sport. The only thing we really argued about was that he didn’t want me to waste time throwing a slider. My slider was always my fourth best pitch. Although I don’t throw it a lot, I still felt it was important to have in my back pocket.
Can you give us an overview of life over the course of an entire baseball season, from spring training through the end of the season? Where do you find time for gaming?
Major League spring training starts around mid-February for pitchers and catchers. Days start around 7-7:30 a.m. which is a tough thing to get used to after being able to sleep in for most of the off-season. It’s just nice to get yourself back into that every day grind that is the baseball season. In spring training, depending on the game being at home or not, you could have days where you are finished by noon.
This leaves a lot of time to do whatever you’d like. Gaming is a nice way to fill that downtime. Once the season starts you usually have to be at the field by 2 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game. You have stretch, meetings, batting practice and then the game. On average you usually get back to your apartment or hotel around 10:30-11 p.m. That’s your schedule for the next five months with travel, day games and very few off days sprinkled in. A lot of the gaming during the season happens after the game for me personally. It’s a good way for me to wind down after a long day at the field.
Tell us about your personal history with gaming. What games and consoles are your favorites today?
My gaming history goes back a long time. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to have owned almost every system. I spent a lot of time early on playing Atari and Nintendo and still do. I loved playing all those games because they were so simple. My brother and I still get out the old systems and play our favorites. I actually beat Jaws on Nintendo for the first time this summer. It’s funny to think about the amount of hours I logged on that game and had no idea how to beat it as a kid.
I remember I first started getting into online gaming when SOCOM and SOCOM 2 came out for PS2. My friends and I had a blast playing those two games and that was actually the reason I was late to the Call of Duty games.
Over the last few years I’ve continued to play a lot of sports games like NHL, FIFA, Madden and MLB The Show. I really enjoy playing the Franchise or “Be a Player” modes. They are good games to play when I don’t have access to internet or just want to pass the time.
The game that has me hooked over the last few months is PUBG. I love it. It’s impressive that a game can be this addicting with one map and laggy gameplay at times. But getting that chicken dinner is such a satisfying feeling and a good way to get your heart pumping!
As someone who spends half of your career on the road, do you lug consoles with you everywhere you go, or do you put more of an emphasis on mobile gaming?
It’s gotten a lot easier to game on the road since I started playing 13 years ago. Back then I had a PSP that I would play on bus rides before iPad’s and iPhone’s were around. Now, I rely on both my Xbox and PS4 during the season. My PS4 has turned into my road gaming system. It’s smaller to lug around and has games like Uncharted and God of War where I don’t need to rely on hotel internet to really enjoy it.
A few years ago I was introduced to the GAEMS portable gaming system which has really been a game changer. It really helps when you end up in a hotel that doesn’t offer a TV with an HDMI slot or if you just simply want to be a good roommate and not hog the only TV. It also gives me the ability to play on a bus ride or a long flight as long as I have access to a power outlet.
Do you game with many of your teammates?
Over the years I’ve gamed with a lot of teammates. I think the most popular games that guys play in the clubhouse are sports games like FIFA and NHL. A few years ago we had a clubhouse filled with very skilled NHL players. We did a lot of two-versus-two tournaments in the downtime before games. Last year, my road roommate and I would play NHL co-op online after almost every game. It really helps pass the time when you may not be in the best city for a few days.
What are your thoughts on Virtual Reality (VR)? Is it a technology you personally believe in?
I don’t have much to offer on the VR technology. I haven’t tried any of the options that are out there yet. I’m usually someone who would be all over the new stuff but I’ve been holding off on the VR. I feel that there’s a lot of cheap, gimmicky options out there for it at the moment. I hope something comes along soon that changes my mind. I think it could be really cool if its done the right way.
What is the next big thing in gaming you are excited for?
I’m just really excited for the some of the single player games coming out in the next year or so. The new Spider-Man, Red Dead Redemption 2, The Last of Us 2 and God of War are titles I’m waiting on. I’ve really enjoyed playing the previous games in those franchises over the year. But the wait for some of these has been awhile so I’m hoping there are no more delays!
Where can fans follow you online?