Tournaments | Story | 1/11/2021

Bright lights follow Termarr Johnson

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Termarr Johnson (Perfect Game)

The bright light that has shined on Termarr Johnson ever since he first began playing baseball with his older brothers at their Atlanta home before he was even in grade school has only intensified with the passing of time.

But make no mistake, it has always been there.

That light was shining in all its glory in 2017 when he was a five-time Perfect Game all-tournament selection while playing with the Georgia Heat at PG 12u and 13u tournaments. It brightened measurably when he was invited to both the 2018 and 2019 PG 14u Select Baseball Festivals in Fort Myers, Fla., one of only a handful of top prospects asked to perform at a Select Fest twice.

And the spotlight that has followed Termarr Johnson throughout his burgeoning career is still white-hot as he comes off a stellar 2020 season while playing mostly with the East Cobb Astros 17u.

A 5-foot-10, 175-pound, left-handed hitting shortstop and a 16½-year-old junior at Atlanta’s Mays High School, Johnson is the No. 4-ranked overall prospect (No. 1 SS) in PG’s class of 2022 national prospect rankings, and he plays the game with such zeal and fervor that it's quite simply a joy to watch.

“I fell in love with the game as a kid so why not go out and play like a kid,” Johnson told PG during a recent telephone conversation. “At the end of the day, no matter what you do, it’s really how you keep your perspective on the game. Honestly, I just try to keep the game fun every time I play. Things change and if it becomes a job, it’s still a game. And I would love it to become a job at the end of the day.”

Johnson is the son of Terry and Kim Johnson of Atlanta, and he has three older brothers whose lead he has followed. The oldest, Tervont Johnson, is currently on the baseball roster at Georgia Tech after stops at Eastern Kentucky and Georgia State; he was the MVP at the 2016 PG Upperclass West MLK Championship while playing with the Aggies Baseball program.

Next in line is Terrenz Johnson, who is a dean’s list student at Georgia State. Finally, there is Tervell Johnson, a 2020 Mays HS grad who is a freshman outfielder at Georgia Tech following an impressive PG career which included participation at the 2019 PG National Showcase.

Kim Johnson, a former track and field athlete at Georgia Tech, also spoke with PG recently and based on her experiences with her older sons, she knows exactly the way the “Mom Cap” needs to be worn.

“My role has just been to facilitate him being in a good environment so that he could develop as best he could and still enjoy the sport,” Kim said. “So I’ve taken that to be my role; the inner-drive piece, that’s all him. It’s been a good ride from making sure that those elements are in place.”

Johnson played basketball and football through sixth grade but began concentrating on baseball full time when he turned 13. It was at that point that he started playing up an age-group or two which meant there were a lot more games to be played and practices to be attended, leaving little time for anything else.

He has now been rostered at 58 PG events over four summer and fall seasons and has been named all-tournament 23 times, an MVP twice and to a PG showcase Top Prospect List twice. Johnson’s early years on the PG WWBA tournament circuit were spent with programs like the Georgia Heat, MGBA and Team Halo.

“Playing with the Georgia Heat, it was really fun,” Johnson said. “As a kid I had been playing with them since I was 8 years old and it was great. I still talk to (those guys) and work out with them and everything. When I got started with travel ball it was easy because I was with my brother (Tervell) so I felt more at home; I felt comfortable.”

Johnson carried that comfort level with him into the 2018 PG 14u Select Baseball Festival and soaked in the atmosphere. He admitted that he was a little “scared” when he first arrived in Fort Myers for the event simply because he had never been around so many of his equally talented age-group peers in one place before.

But even then, Termarr was able to standout. At the Select Fest Awards Banquet that year, Johnson was named the PG 14u Defensive Player of the Year.

“I definitely take pride in my defense,” he told PG last week. “Defense wins games and wins championships so whenever I get a chance to (work on) defense, which I try to do every day, I take pride in it and I just focus on it a lot because I know defense is really a separation from being a good player to a great player.”

Johnson returned to the Select Fest in 2019, along with top Dominican shortstop prospect Manuel Beltre, who was also at the event the previous year. He went one better at the 2019 Awards Banquet when he was named the PG 14u National Player of the Year.

“The first year was very fun; I got to meet a lot of lifelong friends that I will get to call my friends for the rest of my life. And there was some really good baseball going around down there,” he said. “The next year I was pretty much one of the older guys. I saw a lot of them at USA (Baseball)...so it was good to catch up with them and play some more baseball.”

(Note: Termarr Johnson was an all-tournament performer on the 2019 USA Baseball 15u National Team that won the gold medal at the WBSC U-15 World Cup Americas Qualifier).

Watching Termarr perform on those biggest of age-group stages leaves Kim Johnson with a feeling of satisfaction and pride, things she also experienced with her oldest sons. Once in those environments, she can watch as Termarr not only learns valuable lessons that will help improve his play on the field but off the field as well, simply by emulating his peers.

“I enjoy baseball; I enjoy seeing all of the guys compete,” she said. “I’m also enjoying what they learn through the sport. There are so many life lessons that are learned and I appreciate that and the camaraderie with the other players and their parents, building those relationships. All of that has been a lot of fun.

“So many of (the players) are just really good kids; really good guys,” she added. “Seeing that part of it is a lot more gratifying...and seeing the balance of athletics and academics has been good.”

Johnson got hooked-up with the East Cobb Astros 17u program for the crazy summer of 2020 and absolutely thrived in that championship environment. He decided to join the program with Guerry and Kevin Baldwin mostly out of necessity, although his older brothers had played with ECB as well. With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing a lot of programs to the sidelines in 2020, the Astros 17u and the FTB/SFGST provided opportunities galore for the just-can’t-stand-still Johnson and he thrived.

In an amazing 57 games played during the summer and fall, most with the Astros 17u, Johnson hit .362 (50-for-138) with 13 doubles, a triple, four home runs, 41 walks (.506 OBP), 50 runs scored, 30 runs driven in and 26 stolen bases.

“When I went over (to ECB) it was pretty much guys that I already knew and who I had played with; great friends,” he said. “So when we went over there it was just like we clicked instantly and we had a lot of fun, we played a lot of baseball. It was just really fun.”

Johnson had been named all-tournament at 17 PG events while playing previously with the Georgia Heat, MGBA Heat, Team Halo, MLB Breakthrough Series and the FTB/SF Giants Scout Team and then made six more appearances on all-tourney teams with the Astros in 2020; he was the MVP at the PG 18u Summer Showdown. The Astros 17u won four WWBA tournament championships this past summer, as well.

“Every time I go to the WWBAs or the other big tournaments that PG has offered, it really gives me a chance to show my skills and show how hard I’ve been working; it just brings out a different type of player in me,” he said. “It’s really fun and I’m always ready. It’s fun seeing all the guys that I’ve been seeing all year.”

The baseball team at Mays HS isn’t set to start practice until sometime this week because no one in the school district is back in the classroom yet due to COVID-19 restrictions. At this point in time the season is definitely a go which has a top prospect like Johnson chomping at the bit.

“Every year we’ll have a couple of players come through Mays that are pretty big-name guys like Xzavion Curry and my brothers,” Termarr said, mentioning a couple of recent alumni. “Pretty much almost every three years we’ll get a couple of (elite) players that come through and then do a rebuild and we’ll get a couple of players again.”

PG’s class of 2022 national prospect rankings is top-heavy with Georgia school-boys, as tends to happen with a lot of classes on an annual basis. Florida outfielder Elijah Green has nestled-in comfortably at No. 1 but is followed in quick order by Buford righthander Dylan Lesko at No. 2, Suwanee outfielder Andruw Jones at No. 3 and Atlanta’s Johnson at No. 4.

Johnson knows all these guys very well, of course, as their PG careers have basically mirrored one another. Green, Lesko and Jones were with Johnson at the 2018 PG 14u Select Fest and their paths have crossed dozens of other times over the last several years.

“We talk to each other a lot,” Termarr said, “and we’re really good friends with each other. It’s really great, picking their brains and everything.”

That’s all part of the developmental process, of course, and the guys who ultimately find the most success have realized the importance of learning something new every day from any available resource. Johnson pays close attention to the way his talented peers go about their business, takes note of the process and then implements his own plan of attack.

“Every offseason, I just try to do everything to get myself better, stronger, bigger and just take my game to a whole other level,” he said.

Termarr Johnson is yet to commit to a college, a bit of a rarity for an elite prospect who has reached his junior year in high school. But he feels no pressure to rush into anything and is content to take his time while talking to and asking questions of people who are knowledgeable about the ins-and-outs of the recruiting process.

“I’ve just been picking their brains and trying to make sure I make the best decision for me and my family,” he said. “I feel like academics is just as important as the athletic part. You can only play baseball for so long so you better be some kind of smart.”

And yes, Johnson does want baseball to be his job some day and he hopes to be involved in the game for decades to come. But that doesn’t mean he’s a one-dimensional young man – far from it in fact. When asked about his interests away from the game, he didn’t hesitate with his reply:

“I want to run a business; I know that’s something I want to do long-term,” Johnson said. “I want to run a business and help little kids get to a position where they want to be. I just know that I’m a businessman outside of being a baseball player and that’s where I want to be.”

But in the here and now, as the 2021 calendar year stumbles out of the gate with all of its ongoing challenges still at the forefront, Johnson is very much a baseball player. And he’s a special one at that, the kind that has every reason to move forward with confidence and a positive outlook.

Kim Johnson remembered with a laugh all those dinner table conversations when the boys were younger that always centered on sports – and not just baseball, either. But it was baseball that struck the most resounding chord with her youngest son.

“I saw all my brothers playing baseball and I was like, ‘It looks fun so I might as well play it, too,” Termarr said. “I was very passionate about it. Me and my brothers used to play baseball inside the house; we’d play little pick-up games. It was really fun playing with them and I just fell in love with it quickly.”

That bright light that has been shining down on Termarr Johnson throughout his teen years won’t dim anytime soon. He’s looking forward to playing the 2021 spring season with his Mays Raiders teammates before jumping into a very important summer season on the national PG tournament and showcase circuits. There’s just so much to look forward to.

“I just want to savor it,” Kim Johnson said. “I’m not looking forward to it getting over – I’m not trying to rush it – I just want to be in the moment with it.”

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