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St. Joseph's Manager Sets Tone on Road to Milestone

The Mustangs' success starts with the consistency manager Matt Johnson's brought to the team each season.
(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) From MINK newcomer to perennial league power -- it's been a fast rise for the St. Joseph Mustangs.

"For a franchise that just really started out of nowhere after a couple years of professional baseball, then one year completely off -- it's a big, significant achievement," manager Matt Johnson said.

An 11-0 drubbing of Ozark Saturday night clinched St. Joe's 200th win in less than six full seasons of existence.

"It's just really a great credit to the way the organization's been. To get to 200 wins I think is very significant in the first six years."

The success starts at the top. Johnson's cultivated an atmosphere at Phil Welch Stadium that allows players from all over the country to come to St. Joseph for a few months and compete for championships.

"The way Coach Johnson coaches, it just fits perfectly with the summer ball attitude," Kyle Jackson, a former player and current pitching coach for the Mustangs, said. "It kind of takes the reins off the guys. Lets them be themselves, play how they need to play, and he steps in when it's needed."

Johnson's ways are getting the most from his players.

The Mustangs already owned a pair of MINK titles and a region championships after four seasons, but the manager still expected more.

"I thought it would come quicker actually," Johnson said with a smile. "I guess that's just my mindset. We go into every year with the expectations of winning a championship."

That attitude let the club's owner, Dan Gerson, know that the team is in good hands.

"The MINK is a really tough league top to bottom. I think it's stronger than it's ever been," Gerson said. "But seeing quickly how Matt ran things, I felt great about our chances."

Gerson's gamble on a guy without previous full time head coaching experience has paid off through the first five seasons, and is paying dividends again in 2014. At 21-8, the Mustangs are the class of the MINK.

The gamble's also benefiting Johnson's family as his kids grow up around the ballpark -- from nine-year-old son Jase learning the game, to six-year-old daughter Brynlee stealing the show while singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh inning stretch.

"It's fun to hear the fans even say 'wow she's grown up so much.' Jase of course just keeps on growing," Johnson's wife Brenda said. "He loves it. It's important for Matt. He loves having that here. I know it's important for Jase too. He likes being here."

"What we've tried to do from day one is just try to make this a family-oriented atmosphere," Johnson said "That's what it's all about. If you create a pretty solid family, you're going to have a great organization."

A solid start to a franchise just six years young -- years Johnson wouldn't trade.

"It's been a great ride."
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