Johnson excited for chance to follow Chipper at third


Johnson excited for chance to follow Chipper at third

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Pat Sullivan / AP
In this Aug. 17, 2012, file photo, Arizona Diamondbacks' Chris Johnson makes the catch for an out of Houston Astros' Brandon Barnes during the eighth inning of a baseball game in Houston.

For anybody who thought new Braves third baseman Chris Johnson might shy away from playing in the shadow of Chipper Jones, the idea is not exactly new to him.

Johnson played at Stetson University for Pete Dunn, Jones’ godfather.

“In Pete Dunn’s eyes, if you wanted to be anybody, try to be Chipper Jones,” Johnson said.

Johnson got to know Chipper’s father, Larry Wayne Jones Sr., who had been a volunteer coach at Stetson but still came around. He also knows Chipper, who is a regular at Stetson events.

Chipper Jones was one of the first to welcome Johnson to the Braves’ fold after Johnson and Justin Upton were traded to the Braves last month in a seven-player deal with Arizona, contacting him both on Twitter and in text messages.

So it didn’t seem all that strange for Johnson to answer questions about Jones in the Braves' clubhouse Monday shortly before four workmen came in to start planning how to remove Jones’ old locker, a retirement gift from the Braves.

Johnson grew up in Naples, Fla., both a fan of the Braves and of Chipper Jones. “It’s a dream of mine to play for the Braves,” he said. He came to 10-15 games as a kid at both Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and Turner Field.

“I’m excited to play third,” he said. “I know the history over there. Got some shoes to fill, going to do the best I can and try to just make sure that I play Chris Johnson’s game and obviously not Chipper Jones’ game.”

The Braves asked for Johnson in the deal when it became clear they would have to part with Martin Prado to acquire a player of Upton’s caliber.

They did it with the idea that they could platoon the right-handed hitting Johnson and left-handed hitting Juan Francisco at third. And they did it with the idea that neither one would have to feel like they were filling Jones’ role.

“I think we replace what Chipper could bring us with left field with Justin,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

Heading into spring training — Braves pitchers and catchers report Monday — Gonzalez is planning to bat Upton in Jones’ old third spot in the lineup. As it stands now, he will probably bat Johnson or Francisco eighth.

Last year, Johnson, 28, hit .281 with 15 home runs and 76 RBIs in 136 games combined with Arizona and Houston in his third full season in the majors. While Johnson said the idea of platooning doesn’t bother him, he’s heading to Lake Buena Vista, Fla., looking for more.

“I know myself and Juan are probably going to come in spring training and eye that starting job,” Johnson said. “That’s our mindset.”

Johnson spent the past week in Atlanta working out, looking for a place to live and meeting teammates and staff. It was the second time he’d been traded in less than six months.

The Astros, who drafted Johnson in the fourth round out of Stetson in 2006, traded him to Arizona July 29. He was one of six Astros players traded that month as the struggling franchise continued its makeover.

As often as Upton’s name had been in the rumor mill this winter, Johnson’s hadn’t. But that doesn’t mean it was all bad news on the morning of Jan. 24, when his girlfriend came running down the stairs and told him he’d better check his phone.

He had 65 text messages.

“Just from being in Houston from the time I got there with (Lance) Berkman and (Roy) Oswalt to when I got traded, it’s crazy,” Johnson said. “This game is crazy. I was surprised (by the trade). I wasn’t expecting it, but it was a pretty good surprise.”

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