As speakers blare lyrics of Justin Timberlake’s “My Love” at Tointon Family Stadium, fans choose to sing or cheer as all eyes focus on the plate. The captivating tune sparks fire for those dressed in purple while opposing pitchers stand in fear. They know that Kansas State baseball star, Dom Johnson, leads off.
Standing at a modest 5 foot 9 inches, Johnson swings the heaviest bat on the roster. Hitting a staunch .422 batting average on 43 hits, 14 doubles and 15 RBIs, the sophomore slugger is among the nation’s leaders in offensive production with the help of a 16-game hitting streak along the way.
The Oklahoma State Cowboy-turned-Wildcat has fun while playing the game he loves, but allows his competitive spirit to take over to succeed. The saying by Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra, “Baseball is 90 percent mental, the other 10 is physical,” rings true when Johnson laces his cleats.
“I’ve been playing for so long that you have to carry yourself even-keeled … last year I’d play, and I’d do bad, or I’d do well — I’d get really high or get really low,” Johnson said. “When I got here, [hitting coach Austin Wates] really wanted to hammer that in that I need to be even-keeled all the time, whether I’m hitting better than everyone else on the planet or I’m the worst player on the planet at some point in time.”
Johnson’s incredible playmaking abilities gift him skills that allow him to lead the team as an underclassman transfer. However, the sophomore from Edmond, Oklahoma, recognizes the unique opportunity to lead the team daily with his actions rather than his words.
“I lead more so by example than by being vocal,” Johnson said. “For me, because I’m hitting lead-off, I like to set the tone early. When I step into the box … as long as I’m not striking out, I put the ball hard in play. That kind of sets the tone for the game. That shows everyone else that, ‘Hey, we can get this guy — we can get on this guy.'”
The talented lead-off hitter also recognizes and appreciates where he inherited his natural skills. Hard work and attitude are how he plays the game, but he knows he wouldn’t be here without his faith.
Shining bright and looking heavy, gold chains clunk against his chest in hustle and celebration. One chain clearly depicts Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting, “The Last Supper.”
When times were difficult as a freshman at Oklahoma State, leaning on God was more important than ever.
“My faith takes hold over everything in my life,” Johnson said. “I feel like that’s what helped me a lot over the past year and a half because I was in a very bad spot last year at Oklahoma State, but now I feel like [God’s] put me on a platform to be a great Christian for Him and live for Him and live through Him.”
Although it molded healthier mental states off the field, his role models and Christian values lend him a hand on the diamond as well.
“You do everything — you go to church, you read the bible, you study, you’re in touch with God: you pray, but for me, I feel as if God … when I’m hitting, he’s with me,” Johnson said. “When I’m going to make a play, he’s with me. I’m talking to God whether I’m at the bottom [or] I’m at the high, just because I know that’s what’s important to me.”
Also contributing to Johnson’s success is the close-knit relationship with his earthly father and modeling his game after baseball player Mookie Betts.
The Wildcat outfielder sees a connection between the two because his father sets him up for success on and off the field.
“He’s a gentleman,” Johnson said, comparing Mookie Betts to his father. “He’s a man, he’s the man of the house. My dad, he’s like that. He’s that person in my life that I really look up to because he leads and provides for us so well.”
Expanding on the importance of father figures, Johnson explains that his father is the second-most important relationship in his life. Without God and his dad, his down-to-earth vibe would be challenged.
“God and my dad: my dad and I are so close,” Johnson said. “My dad — he got sole custody of me when I was about five years old. He told himself when he had me at a young age, he was like, ‘Hey, look — I’m going to do everything I can do to get him to be the best person, athlete, whatever I choose to be, whatever he chooses to be, I’m gonna put myself and him in the best position possible.’ He really has. He’s my number one.”
Dom Johnson’s leadership prevails even following a rare 0-4 showing with three strikeouts.
Already having his mind set on his former team, Oklahoma State, the strategy of staying even-keeled doesn’t change.
“To me, it’s just another day,” Johnson said. “If I approach the game as if this is really big for me … there’s a lot I have to do, I have to do everything, I’ve got to hit five home runs, I can’t strike out. I feel like I’m going to press too much and that’s going to put me in a really low low. If I approach the game as I’m playing TCU, or playing Northern Colorado, or Central Connecticut State — someone that I know no one — I have no attachment to these guys, I feel like I’ll be able to succeed that way.”
K-State searches for its first Big 12 win in the conference home-opener in a three-game series against No. 6 Oklahoma State beginning at 6 p.m. this Friday at Tointon Family Stadium.
For the Wildcats to have a chance against the powerful roster, Dom Johnson’s leadership and success need to shine radiantly in the batter’s box, on the base paths and in the outfield.
Tickets are available at K-State Sports, and viewing is available on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.