Blue Jays coach Dane Johnson savouring son’s minor-league experience

Toronto Blue Jays bullpen coach Dane Johnson, centre, celebrated Father's Day by following his son pitch in the Blue Jays minor-league system. (Mike Carlson/CP)

TORONTO – A Father’s Day gift arrived in the early hours Sunday morning for Toronto Blue Jays bullpen coach Dane Johnson, as his son Cobi made his professional debut with a clean inning for the short-season A Vancouver Canadians.

The senior Johnson didn’t watch – “I have a tough time” seeing him pitch, he said – but followed along as an 8-4 loss at the Eugene Emeralds played out. Cobi entered a 7-2 game in the seventh and struck out two of the three batters he faced, giving his dad a bit of relief.

“I’m going to be rattled every night,” Johnson said of following Cobi in the pros. “The father-son relationship, you watch your child who you’ve reared and been around throughout his whole baseball career and sometimes you think you want it more than he does.

“He’s grinding, doing his thing, and I grind, too, in my own way.”

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A six-foot-four, 220-pound right-hander, Cobi was chosen in the 30th round by the Blue Jays in the draft earlier this month. He’d been picked twice before, as the San Diego Padres selected him out of high school in the 35th round in 2014 while the Los Angeles Angels took him in the 29th round last year as a junior at Florida State while he was recovering from Tommy John surgery.

This year, he was back at home after Florida State was eliminated from the NCAA regionals when the Blue Jays gave his dad a call and told him they were considering taking Cobi.

“I told them I’d love for him to be a Blue Jay,” said Johnson, who promptly phoned home and told his son to “sit tight, they could be calling soon, let’s keep our fingers crossed.”

“It was really exciting from that point on,” he continued. “That potentially had been on the table at any stage, high school or whatever, and how that would be and how that would go with me working here, would it be awkward, would it not be awkward, all the things you have to handle when you’re putting your son out there in an organization.

“There are going to be reports on him all the time, you’re exposed to a lot of things and to the people that are going to be around him. All you can do is teach him is to act as professional as he possibly can, to treat people as well as he possibly can and give him a head start on what the baseball world is like when he actually does get into an organization.”

Cobi, a mechanical engineering major, logged 20.1 innings over 14 appearances in his first season back from surgery, allowing eight runs on 16 hits and 13 walks with 27 strikeouts. He features a four-seam fastball, a changeup and a curveball.

“Everything needs to be worked on and cleaned up as best as he possibly can,” said Johnson, who logged 63 big-league games during a 13-year pro career. “He’s a big kid, a lot bigger than I was – I played at 208, 210 – he’s got some big legs. It’s fun for him to compete. He’s jacked up about it.”

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