Tyler Johnson has spent the past three seasons playing baseball in a "one stoplight" town, but he hopes to find his way to the Big Apple in the coming years.
The 2015 Olentangy Orange High School graduate and pitcher for the Gardner-Webb University baseball team was selected by the New York Yankees in the 30th round (907th overall pick) of the Major League Baseball draft June 6.
Johnson signed with the Yankees on June 10 and is getting acclimated to his new surroundings at the organization's rookie camp in Tampa, Florida.
The right-hander made 58 appearances on the mound, all in relief, over three seasons at Gardner-Webb, which is in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. He went 4-2 with one save and a 6.56 ERA, 84 strikeouts and 44 walks in 81 innings.
"It's been a lifelong dream of mine to play professional baseball and I think this is the best opportunity to do it right now," Johnson said. "Gardner-Webb is (in) a one stoplight town, so it will be a little different, but I'm excited about it."
As a junior for Gardner-Webb this spring, Johnson went 2-1 with one save and had a 3.98 ERA, 53 strikeouts and 16 walks in 40 2/3 innings.
"I was a little surprised that I was drafted by (the Yankees)," he said. "I had only talked to them once, so it kind of came out of nowhere."
Bulldogs coach Rusty Stroupe wasn't surprised, especially after Johnson's performance against Winthrop in the Big South Conference tournament May 24 in Lynchburg, Virginia. Johnson was called from the bullpen with one out in the first inning and runners at second and third base and his team trailing 3-0.
He allowed one of the inherited runners to score, but gave up only five hits and one walk in 8 2/3 innings while striking out eight as the Bulldogs rallied for a 5-4 victory.
"Tyler is a fastball-slider guy who really came into his own this season," Stroupe said. "The game against Winthrop in the Big South tournament was great. All we wanted from him was to stop the bleeding, but the next thing you know, he was getting them out 1-2-3 in the ninth and we were moving on to the semifinals."
Although Gardner-Webb lost to High Point 4-1 the following day, the Bulldogs had made their deepest run in the conference tournament since 2011.
"(Being a reliever) is a different mindset than starting," Johnson said. "You're not sure when you are going to be called on. You have to stay relaxed and look at the situation. You can come in with no outs and the bases loaded and they hand you the ball and say, 'Strike 'em all out.'"
Johnson struggled his sophomore season with the Bulldogs. He had no decisions but had a 15.70 ERA and surrendered 28 hits and 17 walks in 14 1/3 innings with 19 strikeouts.
"I was hurt twice during the year, and it was a matter of changing things up," Johnson said. "I was changing my arm slot. I was trying to work on some mechanics during the season that I should have worked on in the offseason.
"I commanded the zone this year. I hit 94 (mph on my fastball) and was in the low 90s most of the time."
Reverting back to his previous pitching motion made the difference and gave Johnson the confidence he needed on the mound.
"Tyler never gets rattled on the mound," Stroupe said. "I like his character on and off field.
"I honestly think the thing I would recommend to him is to keep doing what he has been doing because his best years are ahead of him. I'm extremely proud of him. He has been here three years and it's time to go. It's what's best for him."
Johnson is taking part in workouts with the Yankees to build up his arm and stamina, after which he will be assigned to a minor-league team.
"For us pitchers, we're going to throw bullpens and keep doing that until we can face live hitters and then we'll have game situations," he said. "... Since we haven't thrown in a while (since the end of the college season), they wanted us to throw some before starting bullpens.
"They want you to get comfortable. They want you to be able to be commanding your pitches and getting where you need to be."