Following career year, Johnson preps for 2014
Disciplined third baseman proved to be worthy successor to Chipper
ATLANTA -- During his long career that has included stints as a player and coach at both the Minor and Major League levels, Ron Johnson has developed a no-nonsense approach that is shared by many other grizzled veterans of the baseball world.
As his son has spent the past few years establishing himself as a Major Leaguer, the elder Johnson has routinely provided guidance and support. At the same time, his understanding of baseball's humbling nature has seemingly kept him from habitually extending too many compliments.
But after watching his son, Chris Johnson, nearly win a batting title and prove to be one of the most valuable pieces of a Braves club that won last year's National League East title, the hard-nosed baseball lifer had no problem expressing his pride.
"After the season, I think it was the day after the playoffs ended, he called me and said, 'Hey, amazing season, I'm so proud of you,'" Johnson said in reference to his father, who currently serves as Triple-A Norfolk's manager. "So that is something I'll never forget. That was definitely a phone call that will be in the back of my head forever."
This call is just one of the many things Johnson will not forget about his memorable first season in Atlanta. When he joined the Braves around this same time last year, he was recognized as the "throw-in" in the trade that also brought Justin Upton from Arizona to Georgia.
In a way, it was cool to point out that Chipper Jones' replacement would be a guy who shared the same initials and played for Jones' godfather at Stetson University. But this storyline was downplayed because Johnson actually began the season platooning at third base with Juan Francisco.
Though Johnson repeatedly said he was committed to handling the role on an everyday basis, he believes the platoon actually allowed him to feel less stressed about the fact he would be replacing Jones.
"[Jones] is a god around here," Johnson said. "Playing well definitely helped that. But it also helped coming into camp platooning with Juan, because it wasn't all on me. It was him and I, and we kind of shouldered it together."
When the Braves parted ways with Francisco by the end of May, Johnson took full advantage of the opportunity to handle the third-base duties on a full-time basis. As he entered June with a .336 batting average, skeptics wondered when he would come back to reality and begin performing more like he had when he had combined to hit .276 from 2009-12.
But as Johnson hit .316 in the 102 games he played after June's arrival, he proved to be a different and much more disciplined hitter than he had been in the past.
Braves hitting coach Greg Walker and assistant hitting coach Scott Fletcher spent a significant portion of Spring Training convincing Johnson that he could be more productive if he focused more on his batting average than his home run totals.
"I'd say the coaching staff over here made me realize what kind of player I want to be and what kind of hitter that I should be," Johnson said. "I shouldn't be a guy going up there trying to hit 30 home runs. I'll take my hits going the other way, hit the ball to right field. That's the guy I want to be. I want to [hit] around .300. If the power numbers come later, then that's fine."
On the way to ranking second in the NL with a .321 batting average, Johnson found that he did not necessarily have to sacrifice power in the process of proving much more consistent. The 12 home runs he hit were just three shy of the career-high total he had produced in 2012, while playing for the Astros and D-backs.
"I'm really proud about how last year went," Johnson said. "It's something I'll never forget."
While Johnson's success will afford him the opportunity to come to Spring Training without the need to win a starting job, he would rather maintain the same motivating mindset that allowed him to turn many of his doubters into believers last year.
"I'm really superstitious," Johnson said, "so I'm trying not to make it any different. I'm trying to come to camp to win a job. That's my mentality, because I want to continue to progress and have another good year. So I'm trying everything to keep my mind on the same path as last offseason."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.