Sean Johnston


When Leo Veleas began coaching baseball at Berlin High, he showed he would back his players.

When an umpire was giving sophomore pitcher Sean Johnston a hard time, Veleas said, “Stop yelling at my player,” Johnston recalled. “He lost his mind and got thrown out. I loved it.”

They were good for each other. Johnston, a left-hander, would get 19 of his 21 victories under Veleas. This helped Veleas get off to a fast start in his career, which has included over 600 victories and five state titles. And Johnston went on to pitch at Harvard and in the minors.

In high school, Johnston’s best pitch was a forkball. He was 6-1 with a 1.96 ERA and 7-1 with a 0.87 ERA in his last two years.

At Harvard he relied more on a 90-mph fastball. In the minors there also were the sinker and changeup.

In an otherwise glossy career, Johnston encountered a forgettable doubleheader against Boston College. As a sophomore he was called to relieve in the last inning because BC had loaded the bases. “I was surprised to get the call because I was a starter.” He allowed a grand slam and took the loss.

But there was no time to mope. He was the second-game starter, but his first pitch was lined off his left arm, causing a contusion and swelling. He missed most of that season.

“It’s an amazing story,” he said. “It was so crazy.”

Johnston ended his college career with a solid senior season: 4-2 record, 61 strikeouts, 3.75 ERA, All-EIBL honorable and team co-MVP.

Then he received the news, while playing $2 Blackjack at Foxwoods. A friend got a call that Johnston had been drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 15th round.

“Everybody at the table congratulated me,” he said.

In 1995, his fourth and last year in the minors at Class AA Birmingham, his manager was Terry Francona and one teammate was Michael Jordan.

“By then my elbow was bothering me,” Johnston said. He finished his pro career with a 38-20 record and appearances in the Midwest and Carolina League All-Star Games. He then enrolled at Georgetown Law School. Now, 53, and living in West Hartford, he is Vice-President of the Claims Department at CNA.

Meanwhile, Veleas is still doing his thing.

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