Baseball is family: A bond through the passing of loved ones

Sergio Santistevan

Brad Johnson and Austin Trinidad knew nothing about each other in 2012, they did not even know each other yet, in that year however, both of their lives changed forever, creating a bond that will last a lifetime.

Trinidad was born in The Lone Star State. At one-year-old, Trinidad had a baseball in his hand and his love for the game began.

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“Favorite memory is probably not even the fact of playing games, just being able to go outside,” said Trinidad. “I used to throw a ball against the brick side of my house and I would just do that for hours.”

After 10 years of living in Texas, Trinidad’s family moved to Merced, California where he eventually attended Golden Valley High School.

Austin Trinidad and his brother (left) smile while enjoying time with their mother (right) when Trinidad was younger. Photo courtesy of: Austin Trinidad family.

Unlike his older brother, who bonded with his mother over everything, Trinidad and his mother’s relationship thrived over baseball. He credits his mother for being his biggest supporter on and off the field throughout his baseball career.

“Most of my memories were at the baseball field because my dad always worked out of state a lot,” Trinidad said. “She was probably harder on me than my coaches…she would just yell at me.”

Unfortunately, Trinidad’s mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer, which prevented her from attending most of his games as he grew older.

“I don’t think she ever missed a game until she got sick,” he said.

In 2012, one semester before his high school graduation, Trinidad’s biggest supporter lost her battle to stomach cancer.

After his mother’s passing, Trinidad’s life was never the same, but he still had work to finish on the diamond, as she would have wanted. He was recruited by some colleges, but after suffering an injury he went the junior college route and decided to attend Merced College.

Trinidad redshirted during his freshmen season at Merced. One year later, he transferred to West Hills College-Coalinga, a community college in Coalinga, California. After a short stint in Coalinga, Trinidad found himself at Colorado State University.

“I chose CSU because I didn’t think I was going to play after my junior college,” he said. “I applied and got in, and I was like ‘you know what, I’m coming out here.’ I decided to come live somewhere new, super spontaneous.”

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Trinidad says he gets his wild, outgoing and spontaneous personality from his mother. That same personality and his love for baseball landed him on the CSU club baseball team where he met Johnson.

Johnson was born and raised in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. A month before he was born, Johnson’s father, Lynn Johnson, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Despite all the odds and surgeries, Lynn overcome every obstacle and was always there for his son’s baseball games.  

“I have a twin sister who plays softball and my mom always went to her games and my dad would come to my games,” Johnson said. “He was always with me on the baseball field growing up.”

In 2012, Johnson was in his sophomore year at Mountain Vista High School when his father passed away after his 15-and-a-half year battle with brain tumors.

“My favorite memory is (when) we would go camping at Lake McConaughy in Nebraska every year, and on the beach we would always play Wiffle Ball,” Johnson said. “He was a gamer. He would take those games competitively, it was just hilarious.”

Brad Johnson (middle) and his family enjoy the day at Lake McConaughy in Nebraska with their dad, Lynn (right).

After completing his senior season, Johnson had an offer to play for Taft Community College in Taft, California, but decided to forego the opportunity and enroll at CSU.

“After two years of playing there, I would probably be back here anyways, so I just wanted to stay home,” he said. “I wanted to stay close to the family, they are probably my biggest support.”

Upon entering CSU, Johnson wanted to focus all his energy on grades, and did not join the club baseball team. However, his holdout did not last long as he was on the team the next season.

On the CSU baseball team is where Trinidad and Johnson’s journeys finally connected, and the friendship started. After playing with each other for a few months, Trinidad began to get curious about the meaning behind Johnson’s cleats that had “L.J.” written on them. Johnson went on to explain that they stand for “Lynn Johnson” and that his father passed away in 2012, around the same time as Trinidad’s mother, which sparked the automatic bond and friendship.

“We didn’t really talk when he came out,” Johnson said. “It’s definitely something we can bond over.”

Today, both players have a way of honoring their biggest fans. Johnson has his father’s initials on his hat, cleats, pop socket and writes them behind him whenever he goes onto the mound to close out a game.

csu rams, baseball, Brad Johnson, wyoming
Junior, Brad Johnson, makes a pass from an outfield catch against Wyoming. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

Trinidad has a different approach. Almost his entire upper body is covered in tattoos dedicated to his mother. He dawns a Texas star with purple to symbolize where they lived and stomach cancer. His favorite tattoo is on the right side of his body that says ‘mom’ in a heart with her birthday and the day she passed away.

“I tried to get them in spots that would hurt,” he said. “She fought chemo intensely for about six months, so I was like ‘if she can go through all that pain then I can go through two hours at a time getting poked with a needle.’”

With their season and college careers approaching the end, every time both players touch the field, it could be their last time. The team is currently preparing for the Regional Playoffs on May 11-13, and Trinidad and Johnson have both sought motivation through their late parents in the lead-up to their upcoming games.

“What motivates me is…how my mom passed away,” said Trinidad. “Just trying to do everything as good as she would want it…do something for her, make her happy.”

Johnson seeks motivation through his father’s long battle with brain tumors and his mother.

“He was a great guitar player and had a good voice,” said Johnson. “He would always sing Jimmy Buffet and The Eagles songs for the family. And now, whenever I hear ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’ by The Eagles, it automatically reminds me of when he would sing that for us.”

Johnson knows his father is always around, and he still has a way of hearing his father’s unique voice. After his passing, Johnson’s aunt found some recordings of his father playing the guitar and singing when he was a teenager, so she made a few CD copies for the entire family. Johnson keeps the CD in his car to play whenever he is having a bad day.

Trinidad and Johnson feel confident that their motivations will get them past this weekend and help them reach the National Club Baseball Association World Series.

“We’re going to Nationals, it’s not ending,” said Trinidad. “We’re going to keep on going.”

Coincidentally, the Rams will take the field on Mother’s Day weekend, which is something Trinidad is fully aware of.

“That’s a tough, tough day,” he said. “I kind of get to sit back and relax and know that my mom is watching me play baseball. It’s like what she wanted me to do my whole life.”

No matter the outcome, the season will eventually come to an end and both players know life is next. After graduation and baseball, Johnson has a job lined up at an event marketing firm in Aurora, Colorado. Trinidad has one more semester to complete before he gets his degree in Agricultural Business, but plans to stay in Fort Collins.

Ultimately, they will close the chapters on their baseball career soon, but they have created a bond through life experiences that will be sure to last a lifetime. 

Collegian sports reporter Sergio Santistevan can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @TheRealsSergio