by Jon Cooper | The Good Word
The chicken nugget may be the easiest snack food to dismiss.
It comes in packs of six and you’re usually midway through them before you realize it, that chicken shouldn’t COME in nuggets and what you’re doing to yourself nutritionally.
Four years ago, getting caught snacking on one of these led to freshman Johnathan Langley being given the nickname, `Nugget’ — credit former catcher Grant Wruble and current director of operations Nick Scherer.
“I kind of just laughed it off,” Langley recalled. “He told `Flea’ (Scherer’s moniker). I guess all good things start with `Flea.’ Everyone started calling me `Nugget’ and it stuck.”
What started as a goof on the freshman has become a term of endearment around the Georgia Tech baseball program. Langley’s earned a status not usually reserved for a team’s bullpen catcher. It’s a respect that’s as much a testament to the Dunwoody, native, and former Dunwoody High School catcher’s love of the game of baseball and commitment to the Yellow Jackets’ program, as it is to his resourcefulness in reworking his dream and reshaping his life goal.
“My freshman fall, it was my dream to play baseball at Georgia Tech and I tried walking on the team,” he recalled. “Coach (Hall) asked me if I wanted to be the bullpen catcher for the team, knowing that we had Joey (Bart) coming in the next year. I thought it would be a good position for me. I’ve always wanted to get into coaching. So I felt like it would be a good platform to take in order to learn more about baseball from Coach Hall and Coach Howell and the coaches here and understand more about it and learn from them.”
The coaches respected and appreciated Langley’s commitment.
“It’s a thankless job, basically, to go catch bullpens every day and even when there’s not a practice scheduled, if somebody’s got to throw a bullpen or do some throwing he’s here with them,” said head coach Danny Hall. “It’s almost like having another coach down there because he’s been around the program so long, been in that bullpen for so long that he may know the pitchers better than the pitching staff.”
“He’s been out there for four years working with the guys and helping to get them locked in in bullpen sessions,” said pitching coach Jason Howell. “He’s kind of a constant in their flat grounds and in their mound work — bullpens pregame, bullpens midweek, relievers, starters. The guys have had a lot of confidence in him. A guy being here for four years and catching them as much as he has, he’s been their guy.”
Langley’s impact on the pitching staff has been profound.
“Langley’s got a great baseball mind,” said senior reliever Jared Datoc. “Since he’s the one who actually catches us most of the time, he knows what we look like when we’re at our best and is able to pick up on that pretty quickly when we vary off of that, even if it’s mid-bullpen or right when we’re about to go back into the game.
“He’s one of our brothers,” Datoc added. “I’ve thought about how many pitches Langley has caught in the past four years. He’s here for the love of his game and for his love of his teammates. He’s one of the best people I’ve ever met and I’m so thankful that he made the decision to stick around and do what he has.”
“He’s a great teammate to have and he’s one of my favorite guys in the program,” said senior righty Ben Schniederjans. “He’ll notice something while you’re throwing a bullpen because he can see you and you can’t see yourself, there’s no mirror. It’s little, quick adjustments that he can see because he’s catching you and he catches you all the time. He knows how you throw. He doesn’t have to be doing any of this.”
Langley’s commitment has meant being at every practice and every workout session in the weight room. Just his presence means a lot to team morale.
“You just love to be around him. Without that official roster spot, he still shows up every day,” said senior co-captain Wade Bailey. “One of my biggest things about `Nugget’ is you go to a team workout and he’s over there lifting more than half the guys on the team. He’s putting his work in. I think that is huge for the team, for the culture.”
Langley takes a pride in how he performs in the weight room. It’s become part of his curriculum.
“I definitely think it’s important to know about the way the body functions and different things just so you know what muscle is activated — whether you’re lifting weights or playing baseball — knowing if you’re injured to know what’s the triggering point of that injury?” he said. “It’s pretty cool working with Steve(Tamborra), helping, learning from him.”
That ironman status has helped him lift a weight off starting catcher Joey Bart.
“`Lang’ has helped me out a lot,” Bart said. “He warms up everyone, he saves my legs. I can’t thank him enough for that. He’s been a guy that’s been serious and focused on trying to make our team better. He has really helped me a lot. I don’t tell him enough, but I try to. He’s been great for Georgia Tech.”
While Bart was referring to Georgia Tech baseball, he could have been talking about Georgia Tech, period.
Langley, who graduated on May 5th with a degree in business administration, has been on the Student-Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB), for three years, and has represented the Institute around the community and the world the same as he has in the clubhouse and the bullpen.
“Johnathan has got the kind of `story’ that fans fall in love with,” said Director, Total Person Support Services Leah Thomas. “He was a coach-selected member of SAAB because of how his teammates respond to him. He’s the kind of guy everyone likes and they trusted him to communicate and do the right thing. Their choice proved to be a good one. He will definitely be missed as staple around the Athletic Association. I’ll definitely miss him!”
“(Being on SAAB) was cool, just seeing some of the things that go on within the athletic department that you wouldn’t really know about just from being a regular student-athlete,” he said. “It’s cool having that experience, getting to talk to some of the people in higher management and to see what Georgia Tech is trying to do to make life better for student-athletes here.”
When it was time to make life better for people away from Atlanta, of course, Langley was there. He was one of the eight student-athletes representing Georgia Tech on the inaugural “Jackets Without Borders” trip to Costa Rica last August.
“My whole life, I’ve always tried to help others and help other people out when they’re in need,” said Langley, prior to that trip. “I see this as a great opportunity to go and serve God’s people and just get him to use me as the tool down there.”
Senior Patrick Wiseman has had a unique perspective, getting 24/7 treatment for the past three years, as Langley’s roommate.
“He’s kept me in line from a baseball perspective and also a faith perspective,” he said. “He’s a good guy, great values and definitely sets a lot of guys straight in the clubhouse.”
It’s been quite a road to get to this point — not always an easy one. He got initiated early on.
“I remember down at Georgia Southern my freshman year, it was like the fourth game that I had been a part of the team,” Langley recalled. “Tanner Shelton was a big lefty (6-2, 235) and there’s a light back right where his arm slot was in. The ball’s coming right out of the light. It’s hidden in the light. He’s throwing 89 mile-an-hour bowling balls. I can’t see it and the ball goes whizzing by my ear. He looks at me and he’s like, `Can you see?’ I’m like, `No, not really. But just keep throwing.'”
Langley has become a master of creating a positive mindset for pitchers, even though he admits that it might have gone against his better judgement.
“It’s a fine line down in the bullpen. Sometimes right before the game they’re about to go in and they’re like, `How’s my stuff look?’ I’m like, `Oh, you look good. Good job.’ Sometimes you know it looks terrible,” he said, with a laugh. “Down there, it’s a fine line of telling the guys they’re looking good and `Your stuff’s fine today,’ and trying to correct them if you see their arm dropping or doing something. You don’t want them thinking too much when they get out on the mound. You want them to just go out there and pitch.”
Langley’s opinions have become respected enough that he’s become the bullpen catcher of choice when pitchers come back to Georgia Tech to work out.
“It started I guess when I was a sophomore. Dusty Isaacs was needing someone to catch him and I was around and so he asked if I could catch him. He liked the way I caught,” he recalled. “The next year he came back, and he asked me to catch him. Some of the other pro guys who were in there noticed that I was catching so they came up and asked me. It’s really fun catching some of those guys because they’re all pretty good.”
“He’s done a good job throughout the years catching, really everyone, pro guys from A-Ball to our own guys to big leaguers.” said Howell. “He caught Jon Lester this past year, Alex Wood. This is what he wants to do and he’s really tried to learn from those guys and the guys coming back as well as help our own.”
While Langley, who may soon get his chance to be a bullpen catcher on the pro level, admits he does get sore, there’s nothing that will keep him from catching any and every bullpen.
“Mainly my recovery stuff is from lifting, not really from catching bullpens,” he said. “I just go to the weight room the next day and work out with (Assistant Player Development Coach) Steve (Tamborra). I know what I have to do so whatever I have to do to get my job done….
“The better question would be `How many throws have I made?'” he added. “Because every time I catch it I throw the ball back and sometimes my arm is just hanging.”
On Saturday afternoon, Langley rightfully will take his place on the field with the seniors ON the roster, as part of Senior Day ceremonies.
“He’s done various things to earn everybody’s respect. Everybody’s grown to love Langley. He’s a fundamental part of the team,” said senior Kel Johnson. “I couldn’t imagine things around here without him. He’s always positive, always upbeat, always optimistic and brings a presence and a leadership that it wouldn’t be quite the same without.”
“People just don’t know what he’s been able to contribute,” said Hall. “He does a lot of stuff with off the field that doesn’t go unnoticed by us.”