By Wesley Cheng
Cobi Johnson has benefitted from his star-studded support network.
Including his father, former big-leaguer Dane Johnson, who also served as the Toronto Blue Jays bullpen coach up until last season.
The 24-year-old prospect, who was the closer for the Class-A Vancouver Canadians last season, is gradually working his way up the ranks after a taxing 15-month recovery from Tommy John surgery starting in April of 2016.
Johnson posted a stellar 1.73 ERA and 0.96 WHIP last year with the Canadians, converting all 10 of his save opportunities. That performance earned him a spot in the Northwest League/Pioneer League All-Star Game.
The work paid off. But it was during the recovery process where he was able to lean on other stars.
At Florida State University, where he played his college ball, he met Jessica Burroughs, a two-time ACC Pitcher of the Year and 2017 National Pro Fastpitch first-overall pick. She was instrumental in his recovery, helping Johnson during some of the darker days where he couldn’t eat, get around or shower on his own.
“I remember when I had Tommy John, I had my left leg wrapped to my ankle, my arm was locked in a cast,” he recalled of their relationship’s early days. “She had to get in the shower and literally wash my hair for me.”
Beyond the help physically, Burroughs’ optimism has played a huge role in keeping things in perspective for Johnson.
“It’s really easy to get down in this game. It’s a big mental game. There’s just so much down time to think and let things fester. You really can’t let that happen.”
Johnson recalls some of those quieter moments.
“It’s grueling to watch your team go on. The team goes on and travels and you’re just sitting at home watching them. It’s weird especially when you want to be active.”
Blue Jays starter Aaron Sanchez and veteran knuckleballer R.A. Dickey were two other supporters in helping Johnson maintain optimism during his recovery. The young pitcher was introduced to the major-leaguers by his father.
“They just told me to keep my head up. You’re going to come back stronger and you got to trust in the rehab. It’s a long process. It’s good to talk to pro guys who have my back.”
Now almost three years removed from his injury, Johnson is proving to his doubters that he’s better than ever.