Veteran outfielder Johnson retires
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April 16, 2007 - LOVES PARK, Ill. – Rockford RiverHawks fans won’t get another chance to see Nick Johnson steal a home run, or to hit one.

The RiverHawks announced today that the veteran right fielder has retired after a year and a half with the team. Johnson, who turned 26 on March 16, spent his entire four-year professional career in the Frontier League and was an all-star in 2005 and 2006.

“It just felt like it was time,” Johnson said. “I’m sure in three weeks (when spring training starts) I’ll regret it, but to keep doing it would be real difficult.”

The RiverHawks will honor Johnson at their Aug. 4 game against Slippery Rock. On Nick Johnson Night, the first 1,000 through the gates will receive a collectible Johnson bobblehead doll. Johnson said he will be at that game, one of a number of visits he plans to make.

Fans might best remember him for a spectacular leaping grab at the right-field wall in Game 1 of last year’s playoff series against Evansville. In the fourth inning, Johnson preserved a scoreless tie when he ran face-first into the wall, leaping up to snag a fly off the bat of Mike Galloway bound for the beer garden. Video replays, which aired heavily on local television, showed that Johnson prevented a home run in Rockford’s eventual 5-0 win.

“We’re certainly sorry to see Nick retire, but no question the way he was such an example and a great player for the RiverHawks, I’m sure whatever he chooses to do with his life, he’ll do it with the quality he brought to the RiverHawks,” manager J.D. Arndt said.

Johnson arrived in Rockford as part of the highest-profile trade in team history. In July 2005, days after he played in his first all-star game, Windy City traded Johnson, along with outfielder Jerome McCoy – at the time the league’s stolen-base leader – to Rockford for all-star center fielder Doug Schutt – the RiverHawks’ single-season and career steals leader – catcher Mike Lynch and pitcher Wes Mindingall.

Johnson hit .333 with three home runs and 41 after the trade to the playoff-bound RiverHawks. Last season, he batted .307, fifth in the league, with three home runs and 47 RBI.

“It was a tough decision,” Johnson said. “I was fortunate enough to play four years in the Frontier League. Thanks to my teammates and to the RiverHawks for everything they did.”

Johnson hit .304 with 21 homers and 177 RBI in his career. He hit .316 in a Rockford uniform, third behind Olmo Rosario (.326) and Aaron McEachran (.319) on the team’s career list.

“Nick was one of the best left-handed hitters in the league during his career,” Arndt said. “He certainly helped us to two playoff appearances. It’ll be hard to replace him on the field, but it’ll be much, much harder to replace him as a quality person in the clubhouse.”

Johnson plans on going into business for himself. He and his wife, Beth, have just become partners in an embroidery business in their hometown, Prescott, Wis. In addition, they recently bought a house.

“It was tough, financially, to go back,” Johnson said. “I love baseball, obviously. I’d love to stay in baseball somehow.”

He had been the head coach of the Prescott High JV and freshman teams the last years, but with additional commitments, has scaled back to a part-time coaching position with the program.

The RiverHawks are the Western Division champions of the Frontier League, a 12-team independent professional baseball league that will play its 15th season in 2007. The RiverHawks begin their sixth season on May 23 at Windy City. The home opener is at 7:05 p.m. May 25, when the RiverHawks host Windy City. Advertising and season-ticket information is available by calling the box office at (815) 885-2255. All games are broadcast live on WNTA (1330 AM). Fans can also visit the RiverHawks online at www.rockfordriverhawks.com.


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