Nothing stops Warner Johnson from playing baseball at Homecoming. Not even being 73.
By Amy Vames
“You never want to think you’ve played your last baseball game,” says Warner Johnson C’57. This fall, as he has for about half of the past 52 years, he will travel from his home in Andover, N.Y., to play in Drew’s annual Homecoming baseball game. “I’ve just never gotten the game out of my system,” says the Randolph, N.J., native, who still remembers his father hitting balls to him on his days off during World War II.
As a freshman, Johnson played for legendary Drew baseball coach Doc Young his last year before retirement. The coach made an impression on Johnson. “Drew was not an athlete’s school, but somehow, Young had a 70 percent win record,” he says. Johnson attributes that success in part to Young’s insistence on discipline and professionalism in his players. “He wanted you to do everything in a big league manner,” Johnson says. “When we traveled, you had your tie on and your shoes were shined.”
Johnson himself shined at Drew, playing catcher in every game during his four years here. He had his best year at bat when he was a junior and hit .388. In one memorable game during his sophomore year, “I had two home runs,” Johnson says. “Doc Young was watching the game, and I remember seeing him jumping up and down in the stands.”
After graduating, Johnson tried out for several major league teams, including the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Giants and the Yankees, but was not signed. He moved on, marrying his high school sweetheart, raising three kids and finally retiring as a chemist from the Mennen Company in 1998. Although he doesn’t get as many hits as he used to and plays first base instead of catcher, he believes that playing in the alumni game is a way to honor Young and the Drew teams of the past.
“I worry all year long that I’m going to make a jerk out of myself,” Johnson says. “But when I put the uniform on and play with those much younger guys, I feel just like them. You don’t notice you’re an old guy, and you just do it.”—Amy Vames
Editor’s Note: Actually, there is something that can stop Warner Johnson C’57 from playing baseball at Homecoming. After our Fall 2009 issue went to press, Drew Magazine got word that the 2009 game has been canceled due to field work.