Johnson makes trip to play in hometown
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Usually, Chris Johnson lets the manager post the lineup card. This time, he listened to his mother. Johnson, coming off a tremendous season for the Braves, asked to come on a long road trip to his hometown, Fort Myers, on Friday so he could play in front of friends and family.
Johnson -- who grew up right off Daniels Parkway and attended local Bishop Verot High School -- said he couldn't really resist the temptation to play at home. Johnson asked to take the road trip despite the fact that he had played in three consecutive games, and he spent the morning feeling nostalgic.
"Today's my scheduled day off, but I can't pass up coming home," he said. "Of all the things my mom has done for me, if she asks me to be on a trip, then I've got to do my best to be on the trip."
Johnson, Atlanta's third baseman, logged a career-best .321 batting average last season, good enough to finish second in the race for the National League's batting title. The 29-year-old said that he'd have about 20 family members at Friday's game, including his mother and five siblings.
Johnson's dad, Ron Johnson, is currently the manager for Triple-A Norfolk in Baltimore's organization. That kept him away from Friday's game, but the younger Johnson said he'd try to make the trip to Sarasota later in the spring. But this, a trip to Fort Myers, was something different. Johnson relished the chance to play at home because he credits the community with helping him succeed.
"The coaches did a lot for me," said Johnson, who later attended Stetson University and Florida Atlantic University. "That's kind of where I grew up and learned that I wanted to play baseball for a living. I had great coaches that stuck with me and helped me mature both on and off the field."
Fredi Gonzalez, Atlanta's manager, had nothing but high praise for Johnson before the game. Gonzalez stressed that Johnson was coming into a difficult situation as a replacement for eight-time All-Star Chipper Jones, and he said that he handled the pressure with aplomb.
Gonzalez raved about Johnson's hitting approach, and he said that on defense, the former fourth-round draftee has an outstanding arm. "If he catches it, you're out," said Gonzalez. But the bigger deal, for Atlanta and for Johnson, is the way that he was able to seamlessly integrate to his new team.
"People said he was a throw-in in the Martin Prado for Justin Upton trade, but we knew what we were getting," said Gonzalez. "We didn't know we were going to get a guy that was going to be fighting for the batting title all the way to the last 10 days of the season, but we knew we were going to get a guy with a good approach at the plate, and a guy that knows what he's doing hitting. He uses all the fields. He's comfortable hitting with two strikes. It was a pleasant surprise."
Johnson, originally drafted by the Astros, was traded to Arizona at the 2012 non-waiver Trade Deadline and then found his way to the Braves right before the 2013 campaign. And now, after he's had such an exceptional season, how does he feel about entering a new season with expectations?
"It's good, but I've got to keep working," he said. "When you do good things in this game, people kind of expect it now. I've got to work that much harder to try to make sure I can do it again. I'm a confident guy. This game's hard enough. If you fail seven out of 10 times, you've got to be confident in yourself at least to go up there and know that you can do it at this level."