MARIANNA, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Defending state champion Chipola opened the 2020 baseball season with a 6-2 win over Wallace-Dothan, a quality win over the 13th ranked team in the nation but an even bigger day for the Indians' longtime head coach.
Winning his 867th game, Jeff Johnson, begins his 23rd season at the school where he's a legend—3 national titles, 6 state and 13 conference crowns on resume. His resume extends to high school, winning another 152 wins games combined as coach at nearby Marianna and Liberty.
This opening day, the Alumni Weekend, was the most special of all. To honor Johnson's impact, the Indians' field was named "Jeff Johnson Field" in front of those he means the most to.
"Jeff seems to find a way to get the most out of his players," six-time MLB All Star Jose Bautista said. "He just connects with you and challenges you in a certain way and you want to go up to bat for him and go above and beyond what you even thought was possible."
Bautista, from the class of 2001, is one of 18 players from Johnson's tenure who have made it to the MLB. But those in attendance were quick to point out the coach's impact goes beyond baseball.
"In the communities that he's coached in, he's such a leader and developer of young men," Donnie Read, Johnson's coach at Liberty High School added. "The guys that are out here are leaders in their communities, great fathers, great role models, and great businessmen."
The signage for Jeff Johnson Field is positioned on the scoreboard in right center field, unveiled by current Chipola players.
Although Johnson admitted he was uneasy about accepting the honor when first approached, he couldn't hide his emotion Saturday.
"It was a surreal feeling when you saw that sign unveiled and it had your name on it and it's going to be there for the rest of your life. And when I'm gone it'll still be there. To drive by it every day and come to practice and see it every day, it's a humbling, great honor."
To make the day even better, state championship rings were handed out following the field ceremony for returning players from the 2019 team.
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