When Troy Johnston was a football safety at Rogers High in Spokane, Wash., he took a knee to the head.
He kept playing.
Minutes later, he scored a touchdown while playing quarterback. But rather than celebrate, he ran straight to the medical tent, where trainers determined he had suffered a concussion on the earlier hit.
“I blacked out for about an hour,” Johnston said.
He played baseball at Gonzaga for three seasons. As a sophomore, the lefthanded-hitting first baseman suffered a broken bone in his right hand while swinging and missing at a pitch in 30-degree weather at Brigham Young.
“It felt like my hand exploded,” Johnston said.
He kept playing. It was only after a ball hit the palm of his hand after a diving catch that Johnston succumbed to what became season-ending surgery.
The 26-year-old has suffered emotional pain as a professional—he was a 17th-round pick in 2019—and has shown similar toughness.
Johnston opened the 2023 season at Double-A Pensacola, despite finishing 2022 at Triple-A Jacksonville.
He contemplated quitting before being dissuaded by his wife Haleigh.
“She told me I had to be either ‘two feet in or two feet out,’ ” Johnston said. “I thank her for that.”
Johnston decided to give baseball one last chance.
Enter Marlins mental-skills coach Ruben Aybar, who had Johnston flip his thinking. Rather than planning for failure, Aybar asked:
“What if everything goes right?”
That question became an exclamation point as Johnston had a monster season. He hit .307/.399/.549 with 26 home runs and a minor league-leading 116 RBIs in 134 games. He spent nearly four months at Double-A before a July 25 promotion to Triple-A.
Johnston also stole 24 bases to become the rare 20-20 first baseman.
Despite his dominance, he did not receive a callup to Miami. Johnston could be in line for a 40-man roster spot in November. If not added, he will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft.
Either way, it would be another win for Johnston.
“I love it when people doubt me,” Johnston said, “especially when I can prove them wrong.”