“I always had the label on the back,” Johnson said. “He said it was a maple bat and they’re real hard no matter how you hold it. He said he used it the same way. It was fun. I learned that.”
When he arrived at Citi Field on Tuesday, he saw a base coach helmet in his locker. He shoved it into his bag when he ran into National League manager Bruce Bochy, who said he thought Johnson might coach first base.
“I said, ‘I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t you use the current manager [fellow NL coach Terry Collins] at first base and not the one they ran out of town?’” Johnson said. “I told Bochy, ‘If you need coffee or anything like that, I’m your man.’”
During the game, Johnson stood near the dugout steps chatting with players and enjoying the game. He applauded after one of his favorite singers, Neil Diamond, performed “Sweet Caroline” on the field. Zimmermann walked by and joked with him.
“You didn’t screw anything up yet, did you?” Zimmermann asked him.
“No,” Johnson said. “I’m trying to stay away from everyone.”
No one knows how this season will end for Johnson and the Nationals, how this chapter of his story will conclude. Tony La Russa got the rare opportunity to retire from managing after a thrilling World Series victory in 2011. Johnson would love to do the same, ending on a high note.
But even if he does, those who watch him here, those who can still see his pure love for the game, doubt he’ll ever really leave.
“It’s like [St. Louis pitcher Chris Carpenter] coming back,” said Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, who watched La Russa’s final season from the best seat in the house. “People say this is probably his final year and he always comes back.
“It’s like, to say that about Davey or Tony, I would never say that, because you just never know. These guys could be managing from a bed in an old folks’ home 20 years from now.”