Baseball: Johnsons at home on the Minnewaska diamond – Alexandria Echo Press

GLENWOOD — A look at a Minnewaska baseball roster shows just how much the sport means to the Johnson family.

There are the older twin brothers: Torii at shortstop and Hunter in left field. When the names ring, it’s no coincidence. They are named for Torii Hunter, former All-Star center fielder for the Minnesota Twins.

Behind the plate at Catcher is her younger brother Paul Jr. or PJ. As a junior, PJ was already making a name for himself naming pitches and being a vocal leader.

All three are in the starting XI for the Lakers, who got off to a strong start this season with a 7-2 win.

“When we were younger, we all thought about it,” PJ said of being in the lineup alongside his older brothers.

“To do this now is a great experience. Just like the good old days in the backyard.”

And this trio is at the head of Paul and Paula Johnson’s 12 children.

“We go from 18 (years old) to 11 months,” Torii said.

There are Torii, Hunter, PJ, Levi, Ben, Harley, Xavier, Christian, Elizabeth, Isabella, Lucas and Dominic. That’s 10 boys and two girls, more than enough to create your own Johnson family lineup.

“[Torii and I]started getting into baseball when we were toddlers, then it really became a thing when we were in kindergarten,” Hunter said. “When the younger kids were three, they also started playing with us in the yard.”

PJ added, “I just hope we can teach them valuable things so that when they grow up they’ll be twice as good as us and hopefully continue the legacy we’re leaving here.”

Minnewaska senior shortstop Torii Johnson throws for first during warm up in a non-conference game against the NLS at the Green Lake Diamonds in Spicer on Monday, May 9, 2022.

Joe Brown / Forum News Service

Paul Johnson admits to being a huge Torii Hunter fan. Torii Hunter was also a client of MaxBat Inc. based in Brooten where Paul now serves as President.

When he and Paula found out they were going to be parents to twins, the names came easy to him.

“I spoke to my wife and said, ‘Hey, if they’re boys, we can call them Torii and Hunter,'” Paul said. “And she said yes, that would be fine.”

It wasn’t long before Paul passed his love of baseball on to his children.

“When they were 2 years old, I started throwing courts at them with a foam ball and the big plastic bat,” Paul said. “By the time they were 4, they knew they were being named after Torii Hunter. And they took a passion for the game. You’ve absorbed a lot.

“By the time they started playing, they already knew a lot of little things, baseball IQ things, just from watching.”

PJ picked up the game quickly too.

“PJ is very baseball smart,” said Joe Alexander, Minnewaska’s freshman year head coach. “He’s got a grown-up baseball spirit. All three do, but PJ vocalizes a little more.”

It may have been a while since the famous twin met the twins, but Torii Hunter knows about Torii and Hunter.

“They met him when they were a little over a year old down by the Metrodome clubhouse,” Paul said. “They haven’t seen him for a long time. Hopefully that will happen again. It was a good experience. The guy is as real as they come.”

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Minnewaska senior Hunter Johnson bats during an out of conference game against NLS at the Green Lake Diamonds in Spicer Monday, May 9, 2022.

Joe Brown / Forum News Service

Torii succinctly described life with 12 siblings.

“It’s interesting,” he said with a grin. “A lot of babysitting.”

Putting family games together helped organize some of that familiar chaos. All it takes is throwing a few bases in the yard.

“We would play four-on-four and throw it in there,” PJ said. “Or we would do Wiffle Ball with the other siblings too.”

That native camaraderie has paid off on the varsity field. The chemistry between the three brothers is great, especially on days when PJ switches to third base instead of playing catcher.

“If I can’t get a ball, I know (Torii) will be in the hole at shortstop,” PJ said. “We all three play on the same side. So when there’s a pop-up, (Torii and I) share who’s going to catch it, and (Hunter) left behind us. It helps a lot, honestly.”

Their leadership, especially in a season marred by poor weather and a tight schedule, was beneficial to Alexander. PJ stands as vocal leader while the twins lead by example.

“PJ takes responsibility and knows what to do on each job,” Alexander. “Torii and Hunter are the senior executives you dream of. They’re not as vocal, but through actions, they’re always the ones to take extra groundballs or do the extra conditioning.

“We try to make it possible for our younger children as much as possible to watch these guys, emulate them, and one day you will have the same success as them.”

Her passion for baseball also led to a small home renovation. That fall, Hunter decided to build a batting cage in her grandparents’ hayloft.

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Minnewaska junior catcher PJ Johnson, right, touches in Spicer gloves with pitcher Nathan Dell at the end of an inning during a nonconference game against NLS Monday, May 10, 2022 at the Green Lake Diamonds.

Joe Brown / Forum News Service

“We just wanted to play baseball and it was so cold and there was still snow on the ground,” Hunter said. “So I thought, yes, why not?”

PJ added, “We’ve had the idea since we were younger, but we’ve never had the material or the mind to start it.”

So Hunter frequently traveled to Alexandria to pick up supplies. They also got some turf donated by Starbuck after the batting cage was renewed there.

“[Hunter]started it, and then we all went along with it,” PJ said.

“It was a lot of fun building this,” Hunter said.

The benefits of the Johnsons’ batting cage extend beyond family use.

“All the kids spend a lot of time there. It’s a great bonding process,” Alexander said. “Even some of the college kids come home and enjoy the time there.”

From the stands, Paul enjoys watching his three sons play together. And with Levi playing as a freshman in the JV, a hot streak could see four Johnson brothers on the bench.

“It was an incredible experience,” Paul said as he watched his sons line up for the Lakers. “Sometimes I have to pinch myself. You don’t see three brothers in one starting line-up very often.”

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