KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) — Chris Johnson remembers donning his Chipper Jones T-shirt and parking himself in front of the television to watch Atlanta's star third baseman play when he was growing up.
Now he's taken over the job left vacant when Jones retired after the 2012 season. And he still delights in saying: "I'm the starting third baseman for the Atlanta Braves."
"I try to say it as much as possible," he said with a huge grin.
He first met Jones while in college at Stetson University where his father, Larry Jones, was an assistant baseball coach. Johnson has been thrilled he's been able to deepen his relationship with the eight-time All-Star.
"He's been real great," Johnson said, adding that taking his place is a "dream come true."
"When I got traded over here from Arizona, he reached out and we chatted and he gave me some pointers and stuff. It was really cool to have him on my side," he said.
When Jones retired after a stellar 19-year career, the Braves were in the market for a third baseman. When Johnson was traded from the Diamondbacks in January 2013, he certainly wasn't guaranteed the starting job. He quickly distanced himself from Juan Francisco, his competition at third, and became the man tabbed to fill the huge cleats of jones.
"I try to think about it sometimes and I try not to sometimes," he said. "I've got to pinch myself a little bit thinking I'm playing third base because I've known Chipper to be the third baseman for the Atlanta Braves my entire life. So it's a little strange sometimes. But then sometimes I have to focus on myself and know that I'm not Chipper Jones and try to just do what I can do."
What he did was come through with the best season of his career. He hit .321 and finished second in the National League batting race. The 29-year-old led the team with 34 doubles, was second with 165 hits and had 12 homers and 68 RBIs.
The Braves aren't putting pressure on him to repeat his big performance from last season — the NL East champions just want him to continue to be a productive bat in the lineup.