Danville skipper Don Johns stepping down after more than a quarter century
FARMINGTON — Don Johns always has been a major influence on the Danville Hoots program.
The Hoots skipper founded the squad back in 1991, later guiding them to a Connie Mack World Series title in 2000.
"If you ever want to go someplace and enjoy the game, go to the Connie Mack World Series in Farmington, New Mexico. It's one of the great experiences you can have," Johns said.
But after two-plus decades in charge, the time has come for Johns to hang up his jersey and retire after this year's CMWS. And nothing would be sweeter to him and his players than to send him off into the sunset as a CMWS champion.
He first hinted at retirement following Danville's previous CMWS appearance in 2014, but he wasn't quite ready. Three years later, he made his announcement official.
"We were super shocked," Hoots left fielder Nick Santiago said. "It just gave us that extra energy and that extra fire to just do even better."
These last two games, the Hoots have certainly done that.
They opened the CMWS championship bracket by cruising to back-to-back victories Tuesday and today over D-BAT Elite (9-1 in five innings) and the East Cobb Yankees (15-2 in five innings).
More: Hoots blast Yankees
Johns stresses situational hitting for his lineup, putting the ball on the ground and getting that key two-out hit with runners on base. He also stresses clean, error-free defense.
He also has a way of reaching his players on the field.
"He will tell you how it is, he will tell you what he wants. If you produce, he will praise you," Hoots first baseman Zack Patterson said.
His decision to retire is fueling his players every step of the way.
"Don's been a great coach for us all summer. He's really worked with us and made us all better. For us to put on a great performance today during his last year is really great, really special," Santiago said. "He just cares about his players so much, cares about winning so much. After our games so far, we know we can go all the way and we can take this (CMWS title)."
Johns said he hopes one of his assistant coaches will be able to take the reins after this summer. He is convinced that is the best hope for keeping the program going like it has.
"I feel really good about it. They, and me, want the Hoots program to continue. You have to have some kind of succession plan for that to take place," Johns said. "I'm not walking away."
The countdown is already underway for Johns' last ride. And his players don't want to it end before the last day of the tournament, with them standing as champions.
"We're trying to slow things down here, enjoy the time we have left with him," Patterson said. "I'm trying not to think about that (final) day."
Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.