Many people around the game of baseball know how important keen eyesight can be, whether batting, pitching or fielding.
Recent Palos Verdes graduate and baseball player Daniel Johnson knows, too well, the challenges. When he was 2, Johnson was diagnosed with Morning glory syndrome—a congenital defect of the optic nerve that resembles the flower by the same name.
Johnson is legally blind in his left eye with two-thirds of a nerve not present.
"Trying to catch a baseball with one eye is impossible, because it messes with your depth perception," Johnson said. "It was tough on me to judge and read balls."
Johnson, who played center field and was leadoff hitter for PV his senior year, never used his condition as an excuse.
He took the lead from his older brother, Jeremy, who has a similar eye condition.
"(Jeremy) told me I had to push it 11%, and never use (my condition) as an excuse to not do something," Johnson said. "You would not expect anything was different with him. I took that as an example and did everything the same."
His attitude, and his play, earned Johnson a nomination for one of PV's annual Most Inspirational Athlete awards from his baseball coach, Alex Morales.
"(Daniel) is someone you can count on to be in a good mood, with a big smile, a great attitude and ready to work. He has a willingness to go the extra mile for his teammates," Morales said. "Off the field, he's gone through a lot and never once used any of it as an excuse."
When Johnson went to PV to pick up his graduation packet in late May, he found out he was named one of PV's Most Inspirational Athletes.
"I didn't know I was nominated due to everything going on with school closures," Johnson said. "I feel honored, and I feel like there were a lot of people that went through a lot of stuff, and I thought it was extremely special."
While Morales never heard him gripe, Johnson recalls PV's meeting with Banning during his senior year as a moment when he had to trust his eyesight to make adjustments in the batter's box.
"We were facing Anthony Joya, and he's one of the best pitchers I've seen," Johnson said. "He could throw 89-90 with a slider and a curve, and his fastball had some run on it too. He was hard to pick up."
Johnson's first at-bat ended in a strikeout before working a walk in his second at-bat. With Joya still throwing a no-hitter when Johnson batted a third time, he knew he had to trust his eyes.
"I saw 10 or 11 pitches that at-bat, and I fouled off a few sliders. He threw an outside slider, and I stuck my bat out, stayed through the zone and it dropped in front of the left fielder," Johnson said. "I felt that was a time where I could trust my eyes. I knew I had a terrible time seeing, and I leaned on my glasses as a crutch."
What Morales saw in that at-bat was typical Johnson.
"We call that the ‘DJ special’ - a flare over the shortstop's head," Morales said. "He found a way to get a piece."
As a junior, Johnson was on the varsity roster for his speed. Morales said he didn't compile more than 20 at-bats leading into his senior year.
But Johnson continued to work, and his dedication to the program not only earned him a spot as the Sea Kings starting center fielder, but also its leadoff hitter.
"He exceeded my expectations," Morales said. "He worked his way into the starting lineup. He was working the count, and he had a knack for fouling balls off."
Morales was looking forward to seeing how Johnson fared over a full season hitting how he did before the growing coronavirus pandemic canceled the season.
"Daniel was a big part of our lineup, and I was looking forward to what he could have done," Morales said. "He started driving the ball, and I think he would have been a lot of fun to watch."
Johnson admitted he was able to adapt with his condition as he got older, especially in the classroom.
He graduated with a weighted 4.3 GPA, and will attend Westmont College in the fall, with a spot on the baseball team.
Johnson's goal, he said, is to continue to develop over the next four years.
"I went from hitting .212 to having the most hits and the highest batting average on the team during the first part of the season (at PV)," Johnson said. "I'd like to earn a starting spot and make my way up the lineup. I love being in front, and I feel I thrive (at the top of the lineup)."