November 17, 2011

Legendary Baseball Coach Mark Johnson to Serve as Keynote Speaker at Baseball’s ‘Opening Night with the Lions’

SAINT LEO, Fla. – The Saint Leo baseball program and Head Coach Russ McNickle have announced that veteran Division I Hall of Fame coach Mark Johnson will headline the 2012 edition of 'Opening Night with the Lions', which will be held on January 28, 2012 at Saint Leo University.

"I am excited for my players, the coaches, our families and all those associated with the baseball program to have Coach Mark Johnson to be our special guest this year for our "Opening Night with the Lions", Coach McNickle said.  "Every kid growing up playing the game of baseball has idols and players that they inspire to become.  I can say the same thing about me as a young coach starting out and who I looked too and who I desired to learn from.  Mark Johnson was one of those men that impacted the person and the coach that I am today.  I am honored to have him come and spend the weekend with our players."

Retiring as head coach at Sam Houston State in 2011, Johnson served over a quarter century in a Division I head coaching role, most notably as the skipper of Texas A&M where he led the Aggies to five conference titles and 13 NCAA tournament appearances.  He has also sent his teams to two NCAA College World Series appearances (1993, 1999).

Moving over to Sam Houston State prior to the 2007 season, Johnson built the Bearkats into a championship-caliber team almost immediately. In his four seasons at the helm he led his former squad to an overall mark of 132 victories and 109 losses.  The Bearkats won three of the last four Southland Conference post-season tournament championships, advancing to the NCAA baseball regionals in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

One of his most notable accomplishments came on March 8, 2010 when he became the 44th head coach all-time to total 1,000 coaching victories at the NCAA Division I level, a mark that put him in the elite ranks of coaching.

Johnson was Sporting News National Coach of the Year in 1993 and United States Olympic Committee Coach of the Year in 1999. He is a member of both the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) and Texas Baseball Hall of Fames. In January 2007, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes presented Johnson with the FCA Baseball Jerry Kindall Character in Coaching Award. In January 2008, Johnson was the first recipient of the American Baseball Coaches Association "Ethics in Coaching" Award at the ABCA national convention.

He has also more recently been named the 2012 recipient of the prestigious Left Gomez Award for distinguishing himself amongst his peers by contributing significantly to the game of baseball locally, nationally, and internationally.

You can read his entire bio at Sam Houston State's website by clicking here.

The third annual 'Opening Night with the Lions' is a way for Saint Leo University to formally kick-off the 2012 baseball season as it has become a tradition for Lions Baseball.  Previous keynote speakers have included former Major League pitcher Dave Dravecky and front-office executive as well as Saint Leo alum J.P. Ricciardi.

McNickle continued, "The tradition of "Opening Night with the Lions" that we started three years ago gives everyone associated with the baseball program here at Saint Leo University the chance to see two of the university's core values in action – Excellence and Integrity.  The tradition continues to grow because of the commitments from our players, the players' families, and our baseball alumni.  Also, because men like Mark Johnson want to be a part of our tradition, it will be a special weekend."

The fundraising dinner will be held in the Greenfelder-Denlinger Boardrooms on the Saint Leo University campus and the event is scheduled to get underway at 6:00 p.m.  For more information, contact Baseball Head Coach Russ McNickle at (352) 588-8227 or russell.mcnickle@saintleo.edu.

Video courtesy of 12th Man TV and the Texas A&M Sports Information Office.