When Jeff Johanningmeier switched sports, he ran into problems.
In the fall, he played offensive and defensive lineman for the Hickman football team. In the spring, he pitched for the baseball squad. Johanningmeier, who both starts and relieves, had to adjust. Aside from the obvious differences of the two sports, he found he had to make physical and mental changes to be successful on the diamond.
Johanningmeier lifted weights in the offseason, staying as strong as he possibly could to take a bruising on the gridiron. He would work out constantly, lifting heavy weights at low repetitions. But the type of weightlifting he did for football was not exercising the muscles his body needed for baseball.
“It was kind of a struggle,” Johanningmeier said. “I was really stiff. It just felt like I wasn’t supposed to throw a baseball. It was unnatural and tiring.”
When practice for the 2005 season started, Hickman coaches Dave Wilson and Bobby Chick asked him to press his elbows together in front of his body. Johanningmeier couldn’t. His arms and upper body were so bulky that he lost that range of motion. He couldn’t rear back as far as he should before he threw. He had trouble rotating his torso. Wilson was also concerned about possible injuries pitchers risk when they aren’t flexible.
As an offensive lineman, his workout routine was perfect. But as a pitcher, they were holding him back.
So, Johanningmeier changed his workout regimen before this season. He started running more and also added dieting. He went from 245 pounds to 215. He did more repetitions at lower weights.
And when he came to tryouts this season, he was built for baseball. He noticed the results immediately. He used to tire after five innings but now doesn’t feel strain until seven.
But body type wasn’t the only thing the Kewpie had to change from football. Frustration can be taken out on the other team in football, he said. But as a pitcher, frustration can ruin a game.
During his freshman and sophomore seasons, Johanningmeier said he got rattled too easily. He didn’t like batters making solid contact, even when it resulted in an out.
“I used to think that if I got a ball hit off me to deep center that it was the end of the world,” he said.
Sometimes the problem would surface when one of his teammates made an error in the field. The frustration would cause him to become distracted and pitch poorly. At the end of the inning, he would walk into the dugout quietly and refuse to acknowledge the player that made the error.
Chick noticed the problem and talked to his pitcher.
“I used to freak out when I got runners on,” Johannigmeier said. “But he told me all I needed was a ground ball and a double play to get out of it.”
But after the talk with his coach, Johanningmeier’s mentality changed.
Earlier this season, he knew he had put the issue behind him. Johanningmeier was on the mound when Hickman played St. Francis High School of Minnesota. During the game, the Kewpies gave up four unearned runs in one inning. In previous years, Johanningmeier might have crumbled with agitation. But Wilson said Johanningmeier kept his composure. Johanningmeier said when he walked into the dugout, he told his teammates not to worry about the miscues.
But, more importantly, he returned to throw several more innings.
From that point, Wilson knew the Kewpies could rely on Johanningmeier to keep his cool when the team needs him.