Lincoln Saltdogs Find Key Link to Success in Brian Joynt
It has been a tough year in Lincoln, NE this year, at least on the baseball diamond. What began as such a promising season, following last year’s run to the American Association championship series, has been a series of disappointments this year. Injuries have played a key role in the lack of success this season, leaving the Lincoln Saltdogs questioning what could have been. No one has wondered that more than star right fielder Brian Joynt.
Probably no one has felt more responsible for the struggles of the Saltdogs this season than Brian. At 30-years-old, he entered the year taking a sense of responsibility for the team’s success or failures, and wanting to make a real difference; to be the guy that could be counted on to take the team to the next level.
Prior to the season his manager, Ken Oberkfell, described Joynt as the “heart and soul of the team.” A guy who simply “put it on the line each and every time he played.”
Brian was surprised to hear that assessment of himself because the Saltdogs right fielder is not one to bask in his own glory. He is the lunch pail type of player. A guy who works hard at what he does, looking to make a difference in any way he can, whether it is delivering a clutch hit, making a great catch, or simply encouraging a teammate who had fallen a little short that day.
Entering the 2015 American Association campaign Brian was looking to make a splash, not only for his team but for himself personally. He was realizing that his shot at getting back to affiliate ball or playing in Mexico was dwindling, and so he decided to change his approach at the plate.
“This season I really wanted to hit 20 home runs. I thought that if I did that it would get me noticed a little bit more and I would have a chance to get picked up. I changed my approach at the plate looking to make it, but the results have not been what I wanted. I have struggled, and I have felt like I have not made the contribution I should have made for this team.”
After hitting .307 in 2014 with 10 home runs and 58 RBI, Joynt has fallen off a bit this season, hitting .249 with 2 home runs and 33 RBI. His desire to reach a personal mark has made this one of the more challenging seasons of his career; one he labels as a disappointment.
“It has been really disappointing because I had such high hopes this season. The chemistry looked so good and I felt really good about my approach. It just did not work out as I had expected.”
Brian is clearly his biggest critic, and it is easy to understand that he expects a certain standard of excellence from himself. It has been that way since the first time he put on a glove.
Joynt grew up in a household where his brothers loved the sport of baseball. Their love of the game and his parents’ encouragement to play got him interested in the sport and it was not long before he had the fever himself.
“I had older brothers that played. When they got into it I followed suit and I guess I never let go of the bat. I just had a love for it and that never stopped. My parents always wanted us to try anything we liked. If we wanted to try it they wanted to give us the chance. It’s funny, because if you found me inside before it was dark it was very rare.”
Brian had starred for his high school team (Knoxville High School, Knoxville, IA), but in his junior season he decided that his commitment to the sport needed to be taken to another level. He had a chance to make it, but that was only going to happen if baseball became an even bigger passion.
“I knew I wanted to play baseball for a living and wanted to make it a career. It wasn’t until I went up against the top guys in the country, it was a Perfect Game outing, and I had success doing that. I always played the game to have fun. The competitiveness was never big on my list. I loved the game. I loved being out on the field, and I loved running down a fly ball, the crack of the bat. It started to get a lot more competitive as I got older. But in my junior year I went up against the top prospects and I had success, and from then on it was like, ‘maybe I should put in a little more effort toward the training, and make this a focus of my life if I am really going to make this a lifelong goal.’”
After graduating high school Joynt went to Indian Hills Community College where he was excelling. He caught the attention of the San Diego Padres, who selected him in the 50th round of the 2004 Major League Baseball amateur draft. He chose to stay in school.
Brian played two seasons at Indian Hills, then transferred to the University of Nevada-Reno, before playing his final season at Oklahoma City University. His experience in Oklahoma City was exceptional and once again the Padres came calling. The Saltdogs right fielder was drafted in the 29th round by the club and off to the Padres rookie league team he went.
In his first season he struggled a bit, but Brian put it together in 2008. Moved to Advanced-A Lake Elsinore, Joynt hit .304 in 76 games with 13 home runs and 67 RBI. In 2009 he reached AA-San Antonio, but the following year he was released.
Wanting to continue his professional career, Brian joined the Kansas City T-Bones in 2011 and split time between Kansas City, Winnipeg, and El Paso. Combined he hit .259 with 36 extra base hits in 91 games. In 2012 he remained in El Paso but was limited to just 40 games because of a wrist injury. The next season he began at El Paso again, and got off to a red hot start. Brian hit .339 in 66 games and was a key piece of the team’s success, but the Texas town was not exactly where he wanted to be playing baseball.
“If you have been to El Paso you know it is unbelievably hot. A very tough place to play baseball. But I thought to myself that they were giving me a chance to play so I was going to stay here. I know they were talking about the team moving or folding, and I just put it into my mind that I was going to do the best I could and hopefully someone would notice how I was playing and I could end up somewhere else.”
Someone did notice. After playing two-thirds of the season in El Paso, Joynt was dealt to Lincoln where he has been ever since.
Last season he had one of the finest of his career, hitting .307 with 10 home runs and 58 RBI in 96 games. In the playoffs he even stepped up his game, hitting .323 with 6 runs and 4 RBI in 8 games. He was one of the key reasons why the Lincoln Saltdogs made it to the championship series.
Most people would have been satisfied with the results they had, but not Brian Joynt. He wanted that shot at affiliate ball or playing in Mexico. He wanted to take his game to another level and meet the next challenge head on, but realized that the primary way he was going to get noticed was to increase his power numbers. Twenty home runs became the goal.
“I am a gap-to-gap hitter. I have been that my whole career, but I wanted to hit for more power. In my career 15 home runs had been my high (in 2010), and I thought if I hit 20 that might get me noticed. It sure hasn’t worked out that way.”
It has not, and with just a few short weeks left in the season he probably will not even hit double-digits. Despite the tough season, it was something that he had to try.
“I wanted that shot, and I knew that this was my way of getting my name out. Unfortunately it kind of messed up my swing this season, and now I am working to get it back. This was not how I envisioned this at all.”
While not reaching the levels he wanted, Brian knew he had to give this a shot. He had to try something different to show that he had what it took to make it to the next level. To Joynt it was worth the effort.
“It has been disappointing, but this is a game of adjustment. You have to make adjustments and I was trying to make the kind of change that could make a difference for my career. It hasn’t worked out so far, but I had to try.”
That is one of the many things about Brian Joynt that are so special. This is a guy willing to take risks. A guy that says that being good is not good enough. He wants to know he gave it everything he had to get to the next level and, succeed or not, that he can be sure that he gave it his all.
That risk has come with a price that has affected him deeply. Brian prides himself on being a team first guy, and is disappointed that his attempt to improve his game has not helped his team to reach the playoffs again.
“I need to find more consistency. There is nothing I think I am doing too great this season. I want to be the kind of guy that helps to keep the team going well. A guy that stops the bleeding when we are bleeding. I don’t think I have done that much this season.”
A lot of people may look back on this season as one when Brian Joynt took a step backward in his career, but that is not the case at all. This is a season that a true professional decided to try to improve his game in a different way. No one would criticize a singer for testing their range or a doctor for practicing a different type of medicine. They would pat that person on the back for trying to show that they are more than what was expected. The Lincoln Saltdogs right fielder deserves the same kind of consideration.
Brian is fond of saying that there is only one way to approach the game of baseball and that is professionally and with respect. “You have to show respect for your opponents and for your teammates. That is how I am going to approach life. I am going to be a professional person, I am going to expect respect and I am going to give respect.”
Brian Joynt is a guy who virtually any manager would want on his team and any player would want to call teammate. His actions have made him one of the most respected players in the American Association, and his play has made him a hitter that opponents do their homework on, even when he is struggling. He has earned respect and admiration from those he encounters because of his personality, character, and play on the field.
The Lincoln Saltdogs will play out their final games of the season over the next three weeks while wondering about a season that might have been. Brian Joynt will probably be wondering the same thing, wishing his goal of hitting 20 home runs had been attained. While he may view his season as one where “there is nothing I think I am doing too great,” he has proven to the league that no matter the results at the plate, he is going to give it his all each and every night. The standings may not say that the Saltdogs have won too often this season, but with guys like Brian Joynt on their roster, Lincoln is proving to be a winner each night they take the field.
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA