Fast rising New Zealand pitcher takes his talent to Japan

Written by Bob on July 6th, 2015
19-year-old Ethan Johnston is pitching in Japan after spending two tours pitching in the United States, while also pitching in his native country of New Zealand.

19-year-old Ethan Johnston is pitching in Japan after spending two tours pitching in the United States, while also pitching in his native country of New Zealand.

OSAKA, Japan – Learning to control and make a softball spin up and down can take years of practice and patience for many young pitchers. And once that’s mastered, it can take even longer to rise from the lower to the upper ranks where the best teams contend for national and international championships.

Well, that slow and steady route may apply to some, but not so for Ethan Johnston.

At 14 he started pitching. At 17 he was pitching in the United States. At 18 he was pitching for his country in the International Softball Federation (ISF) Junior Men’s World Tournament. And now, 19-year-old Ethan Johnston is pitching in Japan.

Is Ethan Johnston on the fast track to the top in men’s fastpitch softball? Well, it kind of looks that way.

But if not for an injury and sibling role models, Johnston may have stayed a position player and never learned to spin the riser, drop and change-up that has established him as one of the best young pitchers worldwide.

“I used to be a catcher and third baseman until a knee injury,” said Johnston. “I decided to stop that and become a pitcher. My brother and sister pitched and being the youngest, I wanted to copy them. I had a lot of help from my older brother Carl.”

Johnston’s success can only be described as meteoric. Here’s what he’s done in those five short years:

  • He helped pitch New Zealand (9-2) to the silver medal at the 2014 ISF Junior Men’s World Championship, finishing 4-0 in 26.2 innings with a 1.31 ERA. Johnston was the only pitcher to beat Gold Medal winner Argentina (11-1). In a 3-1 win, he allowed four hits and struck out 11.
  • He pitched the Kansas City Outlaws to runner-up in the 2013 NAFA World Series A-Division and was selected Co-Most Valuable Pitcher (6-2 record, 56 innings, 76 strikeouts and 1.625 ERA).
  • Then last year, he pitched the Outlaws to fourth place in the 2014 NAFA World Series A-Major Division and was an all-world pick (4-2, 43 innings, 50 strikeouts and 1.95 ERA).
  • And two years a go, he pitched his Canterbury, New Zealand team to the 19-under national tournament championship.
  • With all this success, he earned a tryout for the 2014 New Zealand Black Sox national team that just took the Silver Medal in the ISF Men’s World Softball Championship.
  • Ethan Johnston spent two years in Kansas City where he led the Outlaws to a runner-up and fourth place in the 2013 and 2014 NAFA World Series.

    Ethan Johnston spent two years in Kansas City where he led the Outlaws to a runner-up and fourth place in the 2013 and 2014 NAFA World Series.

    Kansas City Outlaws manager Michael Borjas appreciates what Johnston did for his team during his two-year stay.

    “He’s a machine; he was lights out,” said Borjas. “If not for him, we wouldn’t be where we are.”

    Johnston enjoyed his stay in Kansas City, and he plans on pitching in the United States in the future. But for now, his focus is squarely on bettering his game in Japan.

    He arrived in May and will stay until at least October through league and tournament play. Let’s learn more about Johnston’s experience in Japan playing for Santa Fe, a club team, out of Osaka.

    Why Japan?
    “I am young and have already been to America twice. I saw how the Japan junior men’s team played (2014 NAFA World Series), so I knew it would be a lot different. And as expected, it is a league over here that is a lot harder, which is making me challenge myself and push harder, which hopefully, will make me develop more.”

    What is the difference between Japan fastpitch and what you’ve experienced in the United States and New Zealand?
    “It’s a lot more speed and a short game here, and not so much power. There’s more (emphasis) on contact, which has forced me to move the ball around more and hit spots. They have a huge pride in the sport, so the caliber is very smart and technical…”

    Is fastpitch popular in Japan?
    “It’s kind of the same as in the U.S. where baseball is over softball, but it still is very big in Japan and people take huge pride in the sport.”

    Where do you play?
    “It’s in a league called Osaka League and there are ten teams in our pool. In total there are 100 teams or so.”

    Any other foreign players you’ve aware of playing in Japan?
    “Yes, Donny Hale (New Zealand) plays for Momojiro and Andrew Kirkpatrick (Australia) for Daiwa ACT. I haven’t played against them yet, but hope to play Momojiro this season.”

    Besides softball, what has your time been like in Japan?
    “I really enjoy the food here and the Japanese people’s respect for one another, I have really come to enjoy. They are (friendly) and never to busy to help you if you are in need. My team is always making sure everything with me is okay and that I don’t need anything.”

    Will you return to the United States in time for the NAFA World Series?
    “Unfortunately not this year. I will be staying in Japan for the full season as it’s my first year and I would like to experience a full season. But next year is definitely an option.”

    What goals have you set for your fastpitch career?
    “I have only one and it’s pretty big. It is to make the next (2017) ISF World Championship (for the New Zealand national men’s team) in Whitehorse, Canada where I would like to return and try and get the gold that we didn’t get for the junior team. So it’s a big one for me.”

    3 Comments so far ↓

    1. chris ramos says:

      Etan, I’am very happy for you. I umpired your games for the outlaws tourneys & in Kansas City. I was the bold head Mexican umpire. When you were pitching in the Chanute tourney, remember I told all the girls about you. Made you a star down there. You are very special young man!! Never ever let anybody talk you into taking drugs. Let the lord talk & guide you. May The Good Lord Bless You. Stay in contact, 913-999-4367. If you are ever close, call me. Just to talk, see how you are doing. I’am still umpiring, will be in the Quad Cities this year for the NAFA World. Take care my friend!!

    2. Gabriel Serrano says:

      Its good to see some recognition for this guy. For people meeting him for the first time he may seem like he has a big head and knows how good he is, but he a very nice person and loves to help. I saw him pitch plenty of times when i played for newton in the summer and being a young pitcher myself( 19 just like him), i asked him for some advice and he helped me and taught me how to throw a rise ball. He is a good man and its good to see him going far.

    3. Paul Haami says:

      Wow is all I can say young Ethan, from a little kid that I coached back at Royals Softball Club Christchurch with your 2 elder siblings you sure have gone a long way and I feel proud too be apart of your journey, well done go hard, enjoy & have fun.

    Leave a Comment