OROVILLE — It was a common sight to see Earl Johnson Jr. on a baseball field working on his skills outside of scheduled practice.
Baseball was a game he had played since he was eight years old and that’s when he established his goal of playing Division I college baseball.
Johnson, the pitcher and shortstop for the Butte College baseball team, has locked up his next destination after signing his letter of intent to play for Division I Cal State Bakersfield.
“It’s a dream come true. I worked very hard for this moment,” Johnson said. “It took a while to get there but I’m finally here.”
Johnson secured a full-ride scholarship to play for Cal State Bakersfield, the program which bears the same mascot, the Roadrunners, in the Big West Conference. Though it was a shortened season, Johnson shined both on the mound and hitting in the heart of the lineup at Butte.
“It’s been awesome to see him develop not only as a player but as a person as well,” said Butte baseball coach Anthony Ferro. “That’s the most gratifying thing for me. He’s come such a long way.”
Johnson had drawn interest from MLB teams like the Dodgers and the Royals, Ferro said. But Johnson opted to go to college and take a scholarship with the Roadrunners. He’ll begin next fall in Bakersfield.
Though Johnson is a graduate from Ipakanni Charter School in Oroville, he played baseball his senior year at Oroville High School. He didn’t receive any offers out of high school.
“His work ethic is outstanding. He was willing to put in the extra work that isn’t just done at practice. I couldn’t tell you how many times driving around town or finishing up practice that you would look out there and Earl and his father would be out working on his craft — hitting, taking ground balls, or pitching,” said Josh Osborn, former baseball coach at Oroville High. “You honestly don’t see that happening much anymore.”
Osborn was coaching a Junior American Legion baseball team when he first met Johnson. Johnson wasn’t old enough to join the team, but his father, Earl Johnson Sr., brought him out to practice with the older kids.
Osborn, a former All-American pitcher with the 1997 College World Series champion Chico State baseball team, said Johnson reminded him of himself.
“He was small and very thin, but athletic and very competitive,” Osborn said.
Since Ipakanni didn’t have a baseball team, Johnson instead played on the basketball team. He had first taken up basketball before baseball but made the switch when his uncle saw something in his arm strength.
“He convinced my dad to let me play baseball,” Johnson said.
But he still kept playing basketball for fun. At Ipakanni during his senior year, he finished a game with a career-high 71 points, scoring 71 of the team’s 79 points to win in overtime.
“Playing basketball at Ipakanni was amazing,” Johnson said. “I met a lot of people. It was a family.”
Since he didn’t get any offers to play college baseball out of high school, Johnson opted to attend Butte College.
Through the 24 games of the abbreviated 2020 season at Butte, Johnson tallied a .389 batting average at the plate with three home runs and 23 RBIs. On the mound, he sported a 2.51 ERA.
“Our program is not just about building baseball players but it’s about building young men,” Ferro said. “I think he’s flourished and it’s gratifying.”
Johnson credits his family for always supporting him in his athletics while growing up. His father and his uncle both attended every game.
“My family has pushed me. I’m doing it for them,” Johnson said. “They sacrificed a lot for me. I’m just trying to do the best I can to provide for them.”