In 20 years working with Goleta Valley South Little League, Jerry Johnson has worn many hats. He’s been a volunteer coach, a supportive parent and a long-serving board member.
But it’s his “other” job that might have the biggest impact on the sports community.
Johnson, as field director responsible for the expert care and cultivation of the three pro quality-like fields at the GVSLL baseball complex, has developed a special expertise that helps hundreds of local athletes every year.
For his special work in the baseball community, Jerry Johnson is Presidio Sports’ Santa Barbara Sports Figure of the Month.
It’s all a labor of love for the native Johnson, 65 — a forever Santa Barbara Don.
“I really enjoy it,” he humbly says of his longtime GVSLL relationship – one you could say he just kind of “grew into.”
“Jerry has been a fixture in the baseball community, not only as a coach, a board member and parent, but primarily as the person who takes care of and renovates baseball fields,” shares Dan Feldhaus, a GVSLL dad and Dos Pueblos HS athletic director.
Johnson has worked on the playing surfaces at the GVSLL complex, San Marcos High School, Dos Pueblos High School, and Bishop Diego High School.
He currently spends several hours every day at the GVSLL fields keeping them in tip-top shape during playing season. And these are no ordinary fields but, rather, magical ones of early baseball dreams.
“GVSLL is known for having some of the best Little League facilities in the area and Jerry is the main reason for our fields and facility looking so good,” adds Feldhaus.
So how did Johnson become the “baseball field guru” in all of Santa Barbara?
“Let’s go to the highlights…”
They start in the early 1990s, when he and wife, Debbie sign up Anthony and Jessica, two of their three children for T-Ball.
Johnson signed up as their coach.
On deck was younger son, Andrew who became “baseball ready” at age five.
He coached nearly all of their early teams from T-Ball through Juniors and loved it.
“By the time Andrew had moved on – we had had such as good time playing baseball here – I just developed a passion for maintaining the fields,” Johnson said.
Next up was tending the DP baseball fields with other Charger parents when Andrew played on the varsity team.
It was very early in his volunteer career (1993) that he was asked to additionally serve on GVSLL’s board of directors – he’s been there ever since and remains a model of professionalism and consistency.
He’s held a variety of leadership positions over his long tenure, including vice president of the T-Ball and Mini-Minor divisions and also League VP.
He later shifted his focus towards supervising the infrastructure of fields with the on-going maintenance being performed by local landscape businesses.
“But it’s different maintaining athletic fields than it is for taking care of residential and commercial properties,” he says. “The fields need constant care and monitoring.”
Johnson dove in headfirst — learning everything he could by researching grasses, fertilizers, etc. on the Internet and talking with many professional landscapers.
He even attended a specialized, hands-on athletic field maintenance seminar at Tony Gwynn Field on the Santa Diego State University campus.
“It was excellent,” Johnson says. “Plus, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn stopped by to talk!”
In 2005 with his retirement that capped off a distinguished 25-year Cottage Health Systems career (he last served as Director of Security and Environmental Compliance) he moved into a GVSLL staff position as field director.
And along the way he has become a local legend with a very specialized “green thumb.”
(In case you are wondering – the best baseball grass “is a three-seed mix of perennial rye grass, Kentucky blue grass and fescue — currently popular with pro fields.)
And throughout it all, Debbie has remained right by his side (she’s enjoying a 20-year career run of her own as a Health Clerk at El Camino Elementary School).
In these early years, she logged countless volunteer hours as Team Mom (multiple times) and managing the field’s snack bar for a few years.
Their kids are all grown and out in the working world.
Johnson still enjoys watching games and “seeing the ball bounce nicely from the infield to the outfield,” he recently told Presidio Sports at GVSLL’s Player’s Park with its brand new landscaping, palm trees and tables.
He’s one of the few who can truly appreciate how much work it takes to do such a simple thing.
Johnson sees his GVSLL role as furthering the legacy of those who came before him who worked collaboratively in building on a vision of helping kids enjoy sport in a safe and healthy environment.
So with baseball season now in full swing, we recognize this community all-star — Jerry Parks Johnson — for all of his many and much valued volunteer contributions over the years, along with his passion of and commitment to providing a truly “level playing field” for over 400 young athletes annually and in nurturing happy baseball memories and dreams of a lifetime.
“It’s a great life down at the park,” he shares with a big smile.
SANTA BARBARA SPORTS FIGURE OF THE MONTH
Each Month, Presidio Sports recognizes a local sports figure for their extraordinary contribution to the Santa Barbara athletic community.It is our way to recognize those who are making a lasting impact in our sports community, whether it is an outstanding athletic performance, a lifetime achievement award, or perhaps a great example of leadership.