A Fruitvale native has taken his baseball career to an elite league in Sweden, and is making waves from across the pond.
Kian Johnston was named the Baseball Jobs Overseas Player of the Week for all of Euro baseball May 25-28, and his success was noted as a “Highlight” on the Canadian Baseball Network.
“Last fall after I graduated university, I wanted to continue my career playing Pro in Europe and used ‘baseball jobs overseas’ to get my name in the portal for teams to view me,” Johnston told the Times. “It’s an agent service used to gain exposure and guide you in contract negotiations. I got the offer from Karlskoga and signed in early January 2023.”
Johnston plays for the Karlskoga Bats in Sweden’s five-team Elitserien (Elite Series). A graduate of NCAA Eastern New Mexico Greyhounds, he played for the San Francisco Seals of the collegiate summer league in 2021 and 2022. But this year he decided on Europe, an adventurous option to play pro baseball.
“I love it!,” said Johnston. “Everyone has been so inviting to me and all the import players.
“It has exceeded my expectations in every way and it’s cool to see how dedicated the players are considering it’s not a major sport like soccer is in Europe. We even have pitch clock rules in place just like what has started in MLB this year.”
So far Johnston has been nothing short of spectacular. The 23-year old outfielder earned the PoW honour after a doubleheader versus Sunbyberg Heat on May 27.
Kian went 2-for-5 with a double and a solo homer and scored two runs in the first match, an 8-7 loss. But in the second match, he caught fire and went 3-for-4, belting three home runs and seven RBIs in a 12-4 victory.
For the weekend, he went 5-for-9 with four homers, a double, and eight RBIs.
“Obviously, a week worth noting by anyone’s standards,” wrote the Canadian Baseball Network.
In 12 games, Johnston is hitting at a .345 clip, and is among the league leaders in home runs (5), total bases (38), OPS (1.137), HBP (5), OBP (.446), and SLG (.691), not to mention a 1.000 fielding percentage.
Johnston arrived in Karlskoga on April 9 for spring training. The league started on April 29 and will run through August with the playoff going into September.
The Bats currently sit in third place in its division with a 6-8-0 record, yet, Johnston’s expectations are to be there for the final game in September.
“Winning a championship is always the number one goal. Personally I’d like to continue to grow as a ball player to be able to continue to showcase my talents.”
Though less travelled, the road to Sweden has proven to be a good choice for the 23 year old, whose talents will also be showcased on a team of all-stars known as the International Stars or Globetrotters. The team will travel to Prague, Czech Rep. June 20-24 for a tournament against the best ball players in Europe.
“It (the Globetrotters) is a team made up of international imports from primarily North America,” explained Johnston. “We will face off against the Czech Republic and other national teams across Europe.
“Playing the Czechs will be a blast as just a few months ago I was at home in Fruitvale watching them beat China in the World Baseball Classic. I will be one of the youngest on the Globetrotters team, but I’ll be ready for whatever role and in what quantity that is.”
During the off-season, Johnston says he will return to Fruitvale, where he will undertake his off-season training in preparation for the 2024 baseball campaign.
“On top of this I will be working as a personal trainer in a gym using my degree and baseball knowledge to help athletes,” said Johnston. “I will also be starting a weekly fall-winter ball program for local ball players in the Greater Trail community.”
As for the future, the former Trail Oriole wants to keep baseball at the forefront. His acknowledgement by the Canadian Baseball Network added a boost of confidence, and there is no doubt he will continue to make waves wherever he goes.
“My goal is to continue to make an impression, and not just here in Europe,” added Johnston.