When Greenwave senior pitcher Kendall Johnson walked onto the mound between games Saturday, he walked on with a pen in place of a baseball.
Surrounded by his family and coaches, Johnson walked off the mound as a pitcher for the Wiliston State College in North Dakota after officially signing with the program. Johnson even sported his new North Dakota hat, a deeper shade of green than the Wave, but fitting nonetheless for the now committed college athlete.
“I’m nervous to go since it’s a big change, but I’m excited to pitch at the next level,” Johnson said in an interview after a photo op with his family and coaches on the mound.
Johnson has been a member of the Wave baseball team for four years since he began as a first basemen, showing promise the past three years as a pitcher and joining the 2015 Greenwave to win the state championship. The deal with Wiliston has been a year in the making since recruiter Tony Lamonica first contacted Johnson during a tournament in Carson City.
“Then, in March, I went up to Wiliston, took a tour and met the coaches,” Johnson said. “I was a very beautiful campus. They have expensive facilities, though that’s because it’s always cold. But it’s a great campus and I know I’m going to like it.”
Johnson will be majoring in Criminal Justice at Wiliston, attending on both academic and athletic scholarships with three friends from Reno and several older friends already attending the school.
“I spend four years here and all these players are my close friends,” he said when asked how it feels to leave Churchill County High School behind. “Seeing them move on to bigger and better things is sad, but somebody’s got to grow up sooner or later. I feel like I left my mark here. I love the baseball program. I love the coaches. I’m just ready to move on.”
In three years as one of Fallon’s pitchers, Johnson said he has seen his skills on the mound improve tremendously thanks to Coach Lester de Braga and the Wave.
“They taught me some stuff I would’ve never learned before,” Johnson said, “and it made me throw harder and faster. It made me have good location and especially made me able to whip out all my good pitches whenever I needed to.”
De Braga said his pitcher for his success in moving up and elaborated on what it was like to see Johnson grow with the program.
“Kendall’s one of those kids you see who comes to work every day and odes a lot of off-season stuff,” de Braga said. “He’s just one of those people you love to have on your team because he’s what Greenwave baseball is all about. Mainly it’s his work ethic which makes him as special as he is. But his maturity — I’ve watched him grow more confident in himself as he goes out and battles for his team. He’s a team player and I think that’s what he’s all about.”
In light of Saturday’s Senior Day celebration, a special sendoff for this spring’s graduates on the Wave, de Braga said anytime a player gets an opportunity to play anywhere is a big deal, and he believes his players all have the talent to play at the next level.
“I don’t care where it’s at whether it’s North Dakota or Southern California,” de Braga said. “You get the opportunity, you take it and you run with it, and hopefully all goes well and it’s going to be a great experience.”
Though Johnson was noticed by Wiliston in his time with the Wave, he has been representing multiple teams on the mound since he was 13, starting with the Babe Ruth all-star team. Johnson continued his career with Reno travel ball clubs such as the Nevada Mavericks and the Reno Scorpions where he pitched as well as he played second, shortstop, and left field in four championship tournament victories.
Tina Johnson, Kendall’s mother, expressed great pride in her son as well as gratitude to the travel teams her son has been on, the Greenwave and the recruiters from Wiliston whom she said made this possible.
“The opportunity for Kendall to study criminal justice and play baseball is the chance of a lifetime for which we are so grateful,” she said.