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In Memory of
Donald Johnson
July 31, 1926 - December 29, 2016

January 7, 2016 at 11:00 a.m.
James Temple Church of God In Christ, 1116 Lincoln Ave.,

Spring Grove Cemetery

Don Johnson At 85, Don Johnson (D J as we liketo call him) continues to be a source of inspirationfor Bulldog coaches and alumni. 2 years ago D J suffered a stroke. But it only slowed him down for a short time. It seemed like in no time he was back on the bench doing what he loves, coaching young ballplayers. During the winter months, you can usually find DJ hanging out at Valley Baseball helping young Bulldog players. The Bulldog Organization is dedicated to making sure his passion for the game is passed on for many years to come. There are many articles written about D J. Below are excerpts from a few of them. Article From USA Today... 'Groundhog' unearths inner-city talents When 75-year-old Don "Groundhog" Johnson wants to motivate his teenage players, all the former Negro leagues infielder needs to do is recall his own childhood in Covington, Ky. "When I was 12, I was run over by a locomotive," said Johnson, who managed the Cincinnati 16-18-year-old entry in last week's RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) World Series at the Disney Wide World of Sports complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. "It tore up my left leg, my side, my hip. It left a hole in my head. I was lucky to be alive, but the doctor told me I wouldn't be able to play any more sports." Johnson didn't let the doctors ruin his baseball plans. Sixty years and a professional baseball career later, Johnson still plays baseball in addition to coaching baseball and basketball year-round in Cincinnati. Each of the last two years, players nurtured by Johnson have qualified for the RBI World Series. The RBI program, founded in 1989, involves 120,000 boys and girls in 160 cities worldwide. It is designed to promote youth interest in baseball, increase the self-esteem of disadvantaged children and encourage kids to stay in school. Enye Willingham, a left fielder on Johnson's squad, said the opportunities provided by RBI help level the playing field between suburban and inner-city ballplayers. "I think it brings a lot of good ballplayers to the yard," teammate Shawn Aichele said. "Before, a lot of the better ballplayers didn't have a chance to play. The experience has worked for me and I wouldn't replace it for anything." "I tell the kids you have to have will- power," said Johnson, whose drive, commitment and life story are often motivation enough for his young players. "I tell them all the time that you can do what you want if you really try." Johnson knows firsthand about hard work making dreams come true. "I was in the hospital for 18 months," he said of his encounter with a train. "When I came out, I had to learn to walk all over again. I would lay around the house, miserable. I even took my BB gun and shot at pictures on the wall. Then, one day when my mother was gone, I put the cane and the crutches down. When she came home and found me out in the street, playing, she gave me a whooping, but I know she was tickled that I did it. Five years later, I signed a pro contract." Johnson (nicknamed "Groundhog" for the way he hugged the ground as he scooped up ground balls at second base and shortstop) played briefly in the Cincinnati and Cleveland farm systems in the late 1940s. He made his mark in the Negro leagues, playing five seasons for the Chicago American Giants and two for the Baltimore Elite Giants before a rotator cuff injury reduced him to semipro status. He still carries a picture of his most famous teammate, Hall of Famer Satchel Paige, in his pocket and vividly recalls getting a hit against Yankees great Whitey Ford in a barnstorming All-Star game at Rockford, Ill. "I got a hit off Satchel, too in Leavenworth, Kansas," Johnson said. "People talk about how many hits Pete Rose got. I'd like to know how many hits I got in my career." Today, Johnson is swinging the bat and playing infield for the Cincinnati Blue a 30- and-older team and proclaims himself to be the oldest active player in the USA. But he devotes most of his energies to coaching baseball and other sports at the Evanston Recreation Center in Cincinnati, and for some 30 years has run a free summer baseball camp on weekday afternoons. Former big-league stars Dave Parker and Leon Durham are among those who've benefited from Johnson's work with the youth of Cincinnati. Johnson can usually spot a winner. "I sort of have a knack," he said. "I can usually tell the ones who really want to win by their approach. They're the ones always bouncing around, grabbing a ball or bat. "The guys I have here (at the RBI World Series), I know they love the game. I try to motivate them by playing pepper with them and tossing with them. It's more difficult for kids today to stay motivated because they have so much else to do. There are more diversions. They lose interest in baseball. But when they see me play, they realize that baseball is something they can be involved with for a long time." "It's kind of funny seeing this little old man running around out there on the field," said Willingham, a 17-year-old senior at St. Xavier High School. "He can't be more than about 5-foot-3. He's amazing to watch, plus he shares all his knowledge. He's the first one on you when you do something wrong but the first one to get on your team when you do something right." "I met him at his baseball camp when I was 12 and, ever since, he's been like a grandfather to me," said Aichele, an 18-year-old senior at Western Hills High School, who pitched Cincinnati to its tournament victory against Tampa Bay. "To see him out there, going after ground balls inspires a lot of people. He's still out there working, showing age doesn't matter. Johnson gets a special kick from seeing his players persevere and succeed. VaShaun Harrison, for example, was mired in a batting slump but hit a two-run homer to help key a 7-3 tournament victory against Montgomery, Ala., then a grand slam to help defeat Portland, Ore., 5-2. Don Johnson grew up in Covington. White youngsters had a baseball team, and Mr.Johnson said the only way they let him play is if he would catch - the team had no catcher's equipment. Mr. Johnson took what he could get. "I didn't care," he said. "I'd get right behind the batter. If you stay down low and don't raise up, you don't get hit as much. Stay down low and protect your face with the glove." It was a game between the Indianapolis Clowns and the Chicago American Giants at Crosley Field in 1949 that started Mr. Johnson's career. He was 22 years old. He paid $1.50 to get into the game and sat next to Chicago's dugout. Pat Patterson, Chicago's catcher, recognized him because he had seen the young man play fast-pitch softball for the Cincinnati Hottentots. Wingfield Welch, Chicago's manager, told Mr. Patterson to have Mr. Johnson go out to the bus and put a uniform on and that afterward they'd talk about playing pro ball. "Wait a minute!" Mr. Johnson told them. "I paid a dollar-and-a-half to get in here. Gimme my dollar-and-a-half back." Mr. Patterson and Mr. Welch laughed uproariously and reimbursed the kid his 12 bits. It turned out to be a good down payment: Later that year, he hooked on for good with the American Giants and a career was born. One of his favorite stories was the time the Chicago American Giants were barnstorming through Mississippi, and the team's bus driver ran a red light. "The cop pulled us over. He said, Hey, boy, did you see that red light?' The bus driver said, yeah, I saw it. Well why'd you run it then?' the cop asked him. He said, Well, I saw all the white people goin' through on the green, and I know y'all don't want us doin' what the white people do. So, I went through on the red.' The cop laughed a good one and said, Go on, get out of here!' " It was Mr. Patterson who gave Mr. Johnson the nickname Groundhog because of the way he rode low to the dirt and gobbled up ground balls. Mr. Johnson's shortstop for awhile in Chicago was Cincinnatian Larry Raines. They were teammates of Satchel Paige in 1951. Mr. Johnson's favorite Satch story - everybody has one - is the night against the Baltimore Elite Giants when Mr. Paige told his teammates he would not be using his curveball that night. Strictly fastballs. "I'm gonna blind these suckers tonight," ol' Satch said. And that's just what he did, Mr. Johnson recalled. "Struck out 12 of 'em in nine innings, all fastballs." Mr. Johnson still plays baseball in the White Oak League on Tuesday night. Still plays second base. "I love it just as much as when I was a kid," he says. "Wouldn't want to catch anymore without a mask on, though." DON JOHNSON Don played for the Chicago American Giants, Philadelphia Stars, Baltimore Elite Giants and Detroit Stars from 1947 to 1953. Don was signed by the Cincinnati Reds in 1947 and attended their spring training but was released. The Cleveland Indians signed him also, but he never made it to the Majors.

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