MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Baseball has been a lifelong dream for native Memphian and Memphis Redbirds manager, Ben Johnson. While that dream has had many twists and turns, one thing that’s been a constant has been his father.
Johnson is Memphis' prodigal son, returning to the Mid-South to coach the Redbirds in 2019.
"I love the blues, I love the barbecue. I just love being in Memphis, you know, this is home to me," Ben said.
When he hears his name called during the starting lineups in Autozone Park and looks up into the stands, he'll often see a familiar face - his dad's, Larry Johnson.
"I'm very proud of him," Larry said.
Ben and Larry have always been close and baseball has always bonded them. From the time Ben was little, Larry made sure his son was near a diamond.
"We both love the game. I played a little bit, you know, in college. When he was little, he used to come watch me play fast pitch softball," Larry said. "First thing I taught him was how to throw."
Ben grew up in Whitehaven. Larry describes him as a natural athlete with the arm, speed and size to play at the next level. Memories the pair share include a collection of ball fields right off Neely Road, Will Carruthers Park. There they honed Ben’s skills.
"We spent a lot of time at the baseball field there so I just kind of really remember growing up with the ball fields. It's something that I remember about my memories here in Memphis and spent a lot of time with my dad," Ben said.
Ben eventually graduated from Germantown High School and was drafted by the Cardinals in 1999. He had short professional stints playing for the Padres and Mets. After working as a scout, he transitioned to coaching and in 2019 got the call to be skipper for the Redbirds. A team he and his dad had watched since they were the Memphis Chicks.
During the season, Ben returns to his childhood home and lives with his father.
"Dream come true. [It] couldn't be, couldn't be any better. We're glad to be here. He's living with me in the summertime where he grew up and that's special too, to get a ton of time with him," Larry said.
"When I was younger, trying to be a better ballplayer, he was tough on me and that's something that I needed then. But now he understands it. I'm trying my best, and then I go out, and I give it all I have, and he's just always supportive," Ben said.
Larry isn’t the only one Ben sees when he looks into the stands, his wife and kids can hear his name called too.
"To see my family together, see my dad up there, see my kids with them. Just running around having a good time. It's something that, it's a win before we even play the game. It's a win."