MONTAGUE – One of Kade Johnson’s greatest attributes is his big smile.
Just don’t expect to see it when the 6-foot-2, 195-pound senior right-hander is toeing the rubber as the ace of Montague’s baseball team.
In fact, when he’s locked in, don’t expect to see much emotion out of Johnson at all. Animated Montague senior Nick Moss recalled first meeting Johnson when Johnson’s family moved to Montague seven years ago.
“The first time we actually interacted with him, he came after football practice – I wasn’t playing football – and I caught his bullpen. That was the first time I ever talked to him. I’ve never even told him this to this day, but he didn’t say a word to me after I got done catching his bullpen,” said a smiling Nick Moss, prompting a chuckle from father and Montague head baseball coach Jeff Moss.
“I got done and I looked at my dad and I said, ‘He throws super good but he might be super awkward,’” added Nick Moss, getting another laugh from his dad. “But then, you know, in baseball you make those friendships. I’ve played with him my whole life. He’s a competitor just like me.”
When Johnson is in the groove, a lot of people affiliated with the Wildcats’ baseball program are smiling.
On the mound, Johnson can touch mid-80s with his fastball, but what makes him even more effective is the natural movement on his pitches and his off-speed stuff.
This season, Johnson sports a 5-4 record with a 2.50 ERA, 69 strikeouts and 15 walks in 50 1/3 innings while facing the likes of Division 1 Mona Shores and Reeths-Puffer, reigning Division 2 state champion Forest Hills Eastern, and Vicksburg, another traditionally solid Division 2 program. He was on a strict pitch count in those games.
At the plate, Montague’s cleanup hitter is batting .438 with six doubles, three triples, one home run and a team-high 39 RBIs.
Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark
The Wildcats are 17-11 overall on the season and sit in first place in the West Michigan Conference Lakes Division at 8-2 entering a title-deciding doubleheader at home against Oakridge on Tuesday.
Johnson was a key to Montague winning the WMC title last season and making a run to the Division 3 regional finals. He was 8-1 with a 1.62 ERA en route to earning first-team all-conference accolades.
“Well, (baseball’s) always been my No. 1, I think the majority because my dad and my uncle Matt, he also played baseball. He went to (Grand Rapids Community College) and Buffalo and he pitched at both,” said the son of Jeff and Jamie Johnson, who has also played basketball and football but makes baseball his top priority.
“They’ve always put it in my head that it’s the greatest sport. I’ve been playing it since I was like 4, so I’ve always been kind of into it. … The more success I got, the more love that came with the game and the more I wanted to watch and the more I wanted to (work at it).”
Jeff Johnson, a 1997 Montague alumnus and standout catcher who played at Aquinas College, is superintendent at Montague Area Public Schools. Some might think being the son of the district’s top administrator comes with more pressure, but Jeff Johnson views it another way: “We look at it as an expectation rather than a spotlight.”
Kade Johnson said some get the impression that teachers and coaches go easier on him because of his dad’s position, but he said his father is constantly on him about being a good role model.
“It’s tough for him. I don’t want to be in his shoes,” Jeff Moss said. “He’s that kid that they think he tells on everybody, but he doesn’t. He just minds his own business well. He wears that shirt pretty good. Tough spot for him.”
Johnson and his 2023 graduating class at Montague celebrated its commencement Friday. He carried a 3.5 GPA, so apparently Johnson got the job done in the classroom, too. He is interested in pursuing a career in construction management, giving a shout-out to Montague assistant baseball coach Jared Mott for exposing him to that path.
Nick Moss said that he and Johnson are “pretty much polar opposites.” However, they do have some commonality: They love to compete and to win, and they’re both taking their baseball talents to Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor.
When not pitching, Johnson plays third base and first base. Moss is being recruited as a middle infielder, although he also catches and pitches for Montague.
“On this team, I don’t think anyone knows the game better than me and him do, so we’re always on the same page like that,” Nick Moss said. “We expect the best out of each other – he’s on me all the time, I’m on him all the time, because we know each other’s potential and we know when we’re there and when we’re not there.”
Johnson’s family moved from Ada to Montague when Johnson was in fifth grade. He’s come to appreciate the small-town setting after attending a bigger school district such as Forest Hills Central.
Photos courtesy of the Johnson family
The Mosses have gotten to know the Johnsons well – Kade as a top player in the Montague baseball program and Jeff manning the Game Changer app on an iPad at each game. (Jeff is a tough scorer for Kade when it comes to entering those stats, for the record.)
Johnson also has played in the summer for Jeff Moss, most recently on the Shoreline Stix travel team.
“There’s times that he will frustrate me. He’ll come off the mound and you won’t even know how to read him, but over the years I’ve had him since, like, 12 and all the way through 18U travel and high school as well,” Jeff Moss said.
“You know what he gives and what he wants. He comes off and he’s trying hard, he’s digging in. I’m like, ‘Why don’t you smile?’ A smile to him is a losing etiquette that he doesn’t like. ‘We don’t smile.’ We’ve got a little dog in him.”
Johnson loves hunting and fishing and he appreciates fixer-up types of television shows.
He’s the eldest of three siblings. Sister Britta is a junior and brother Karter an eighth-grader at Montague, and they’re both good athletes as well.
Johnson suffered a serious knee injury early in his junior football season, but he worked hard in rehabilitation and made it back for a strong baseball campaign.
He’s aiming to take it as far as he can in baseball.
“I am very proud of him and all his efforts. The effort that I saw him put forth to come back and be ready for the baseball season from the ACL injury was inspiring to me,” Jeff Johnson said.
“I think that I am most proud of his character and being a good teammate. Making good character choices and looking to help teammates grow are characteristics that will allow him to be successful in life, not just the baseball field.”
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