Armed with incomplete knowledge of what he’s about to do, Johnathan Langley left on a jet plane Thursday morning without knowing when he’ll be back again, yet Georgia Tech’s recently-graduated bullpen catcher is about to start working in baseball and that’s enough to make him completely happy.
Far from his hometown of Dunwoody, Ga., he’ll reside in a hotel and begin caddying young, professional pitchers in Glendale, Ariz., at Camelback Ranch, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ minor league training facility and headquarters for spring training.
He’s planning to help as L.A.’s rookie league pitchers workout and warm-up for games and that’s about all he knows.
Yet, it sounds like he’ll be right at home.
“It’s baseball; I’ve loved it every day of my life . . . “ Langley said before a flight from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to Phoenix. “I’ll just be helping out wherever I can. I would assume I’ll throw batting practice before games. I don’t know too much else . . .
“I’m pretty sure they’re going to pay me like a minor leaguer; not very much at first, but they’re paying me to go to a baseball field.”
Langley said he’ll sign a minor league contract and then be placed on the 60-day disabled list so as not to take up an active roster space. While he’s not entirely sure how everything is going to work, how long he’ll work or where, he knows he is officially, professionally, chasing his dream.
Baseball became a passion at age four and catching became his thing the time he was eight. In the wake of a solid career at Dunwoody High School, he passed on offers to play collegiately at smaller programs, and opted for Tech and the value of its education.
Soon, a freshman found himself asking Tech head coach Danny Hall how to try out for the baseball team. The coach offered a role as the bullpen catcher.
It wasn’t the path Langley had in mind, but he had thoughts that wouldn’t shake. With aspirations to work in baseball, Johnathan sought to stay in the game however he could.
“I’ve always wanted to get into coaching, so I felt like it would be a good platform to take to learn more about baseball from coach Hall and [assistant] coach [Jason] Howell and the coaches,” Langley said.
He chose a major — business administration with a concentration in operations and supply chain management — and immersed himself in Georgia Tech.
Langley served three years on the Student-Athlete Advisory board, recommended by Hall for sake of the way he related to teammates, and was active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and in 925, a bible study group led by director of player development Steve Tamborra .
There were hundreds of practices and games (he traveled with the team) and days where even when the team was off, he caught pitchers in side sessions. In autumns and winters, he frequently caught former Tech players and traveling professionals who worked out on The Flats in their offseason.
With his college clock winding down, Langley considered job opportunities in the “real world.”
“I was doing that mainly last fall. I had two or three interviews, but really didn’t enjoy or find them interesting,” he said. “I just can’t see myself showing up in an office in a button down, sitting behind a computer . . . I could kind of tell just from interviews and seeing offices that that didn’t seem like a good fit for me.”
You can credit baseball for that, and maybe blame a couple former Bulldogs.
Langley asked questions, wanting to keep doing what he was doing.
“Honestly, it was kind of crazy. Pretty much I just started talking to people. Steve Tamborra trains a bunch of Major League Baseball and minor leaguers in the offseason, and I just started talking.
“I talked to [former University of Georgia players] Alex Wood and Kyle Farmer [of Marist School], who are with the Dodgers, asking them who I could talk to. They said Brandon Gomes, who is the director of player development. I called him up one day and told him what I was interested in doing.”
Langley also consulted Alan Butts, who’s been a bullpen catcher in the Braves’ organization since 1992, and sent a resume to the Dodgers.
Shortly after his graduation, he said, “[Gomes] called and said they had a spot.”
Baseball has a spot in Langley’s heart. It’s a happy place, and even though he doesn’t know how long he’ll be where he’s going, where he’ll be next, or how much he’ll earn, it’s cool to chase a dream.
“I’ll be with the rookie ball team. They told me I might be going from there to [Dodgers minor league outposts in] Ogden, Utah, or Tulsa,” Langley explained. “I packed up two bags, threw some clothes in there, some living stuff, two gloves. The minor league season ends in early September. They said they’ll put me wherever they need me . . .
“Honestly, I have no idea. I would love to stay out there and help in the offseason. It’s a nice place; you can wear shorts and sandals all the time . . . I want to try to get to Major League Baseball. Eventually, I’d like to be a manager.”
That would be quite a journey, and Pam and Ken Langley may soon visit their only child as he launches a potential trip to The Bigs.
“They definitely want to come out and see me. They were both crying when they dropped me off at the airport . . . ” Langley said. “It’s a pretty cool story.”