Amid last week’s heat wave, fans came out to Maimonides Park to meet Howard Johnson, who was inducted into the N.Y. Mets’ Hall of Fame in June. After throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, HoJo joined radio broadcasters Justin Rocke and Johnny Gadamowitz to reminisce about his career and about his time as a Cyclones coach.
Along with 1986 World Series Championship teammate Bobby Ojeda, HoJo joined manager Edgar Alfonzo’s coaching staff during the Cyclones’ 2001 inaugural season. Staffed with a roster of second-year minor leaguers, the team caught fire, posted a remarkable 52-24 record and went on to claim a New York Penn League Championship that was shared with the Williamsport Crosscutters due to the 9/11 attacks.
“It’s still Brooklyn to me,” said Hojo, a two-time National League All-Star who was returning to Coney Island for the first time since his last managerial stint in 2002. “It’s all so clear to me. One look around and it takes me back to all the good memories. We had sellouts every night and fans were so happy to have a team here.”
But the memory that stands out the most for Johnson is his recent Mets’ Hall of Fame induction, when his father presented him with his number 20 plaque. Johnson said he chose that number because as a Florida kid he always admired the Phillies’ Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt, who came to Clearwater each year for spring training.
Cyclones manager Chris Newell enjoyed his own “HoJo moment” in the dugout before the game. Johnson was the Michigan native’s favorite player when he was with the Detroit Tigers (1982-1984). As a 10-year-old boy, Newell would play backyard wiffle ball with Johnson’s number 20 on the back of his helmet while copying his batting stance. Now as the Cyclones 15th manager, he got the opportunity to share memories with the club’s second skipper.