By Sean Rooney on July 12, 2019.
Last year the Medicine Hat Mavericks’ playoff MVP was a soft-spoken, babyfaced shortstop who proved to be a model of consistency with veteran poise en route to a league championship.
PJ Garcia doesn’t know Carson Johnson, but this year’s key middle infielder has a lot of the same qualities. And the 24-year-old from Arizona would love to finish his final summer of collegiate-level ball the same way.
“He’s that guy,” said Mavs coach Tom Vessella, who didn’t know Johnson either but loves what he’s seen since Garcia arrived a couple weeks ago. “It’s pretty much what you get.”
It being professionalism, a steady glove and a top bat in the lineup. Garcia hit above .400 for the University of Science and Arts Oklahoma team that finished third at the NAIA World Series in Idaho. He would have come north to start the season a week late in Medicine Hat, but a hamstring injury forced him to miss the first month.
With a couple key injuries depleting the Mavs, his late entry to the lineup could not have come at a better time.
“It was definitely stressful, just being hurt a lot it was really frustrating,” said Garcia, who would’ve played for the Regina Red Sox last season if not for hernia and hip problems. “I didn’t think I was ever going to get back to where (I was). But it ended up coming back to feeling pretty good.
“I think just bringing in all of us at the same time, it just helped add depth to the team to where we had way more options.”
Garcia and third baseman Taylor Wright have helped change the team’s fortunes since arriving. Meanwhile, power hitter John Velasco — whose collision with outfielder Julien Ly in early June ended Ly’s season and left Velasco with a black eye — has gone home after what he says is an Achilles problem. Velasco says the injury occurred in a late-June series in Regina, where he was leading the team with four home runs.
Vessella sees the changes — which came right before the all-star break — as giving the team a different look in the second half of the season.
“They were a shot of life into us,” said Vessella. “They came in there, we go 5-1 that week and it’s like ‘wow.’
“It’s like Mavs 2.0 type of thing, we’ve got a new operating system. That’s the whole new left side of the infield, so it’s really good having them.”
That’s not to say the returnees from last summer’s championship squad aren’t still integral to the recent success. Colton Wright is ever the clubhouse leader, which suited Garcia just fine when he came in.
“That’s one thing Colton Wright does, he gets everyone involved,” said Garcia. “I’m more of a guy where I like to lead by example, not really talk and stuff.
“It’s going to take a lot more games like (Tuesday) night, just grinding and doing it that way. I think we’ll be a good team, make a good run at it.”
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