Kelly Johnson Interview

BravesCenter's Bill Shanks spoke recently with rookie outfielder Kelly Johnson.

SHANKS: What's been the best thing about the last couple of months?
JOHNSON: The winning - no doubt about it. All in the last couple of months we've gone from being five games back to several games up. Coming from the minors, you have division races and all that, but it's not the same. It's kind of like you're going back to when you were a kid, and the only thing that matters is winning the game. You're just playing to win. I think the neatest thing is coming up with all the young guys and we're still competing.

SHANKS: Are you surprised at what's gone on? The farm system has trained you guys for this.
JOHNSON: It's not a surprise to me because my standard line for the last couple of years has been, ‘if you make it up to the big leagues with the Braves, you've got a chance to be pretty good.' Look at who has been called up the last ten years, thirteen years. Everyone that has come up has been good - even if they change teams, they're good. Jason Schmidt. Marquis. All these other guys are good. Then the guys we have still around, Chipper, Andruw, Giles, and Fookie. Everybody can play. The Braves won't call you up if they think you can't play. It's not like with some other organizations where they just call up guys to see if a change of scenery will help. They don't call up guys unless you're ready and you can compete. So in a way I'm not surprised because if they were ready to call on us, we've got to be ready to play here. These guys are twenty-one. I can't even imagine. When I was 21, I would have been in shock. It would've been like the first day of class. They're doing awesome.

SHANKS: They knew you guys would not only fill the roster, but compete. And there is a difference.
JOHNSON: Yeah, there is a difference. These guys are playing everyday. There's definitely a difference. We've got great leaders on the team, like Andruw and Chipper, Fookie and Giles. You look at those guys and they're strong. We're strong in the middle of the diamond, too. We've got an all-star behind the plate (Estrada), and then McCann is filling in great. Then you've got Fookie, Giles, and Andruw. We're doing all right as far as the middle. The pitching will always be there.

SHANKS: The camaraderie is so natural. You guys are just having fun.
JOHNSON: All the guys that I came up with, Francoeur and Brian, Pete, Ryan, and all of us, we've all been doing this for years. People think that because we're young we hang out. But we hang out all the time. We've always hung out. Just the things that we do, like hitting each other on the head (after a home run), we've always done that. There's always been some sort of thing along those lines. I don't know if we've brought it here, or just brought it out. I think you see a lot of guys acting more like themselves. Marcus has always been a high-energy guy, kind of hyper, so he loves having us around. I think Huddy (Hudson) is the same way. He was kind of quiet in spring training since he came from the A's, but not now.

SHANKS: Well it's kind of funny since for years this clubhouse had a reputation of being so business-like.
JOHNSON: Oh yeah. Smoltz will tell you too. We just did an interview thing, a roundtable discussion. He'll tell you that it's been fun. We're not just here to screw around though. We respect him and all the guys. I have questions for John. I'll go up and ask him what pitchers are thinking in certain situations. I think you do stuff like that, and he loves it. He's got a lot of knowledge. He knows that he can share it, and you've just got to go up and ask. Chipper's the same way. He may not come to you, but if you go and talk to him, he goes from being the quiet guy to being a chatter box. This is the best situation I think you can ask for. Obviously I don't know anything else. But I can't imagine being in anything else.

SHANKS: Heck with a lot of teams you could be the only (rookie) one up here.
JOHNSON: Yeah. Well like LaRoche got a good daily hazing last year from Jaret Wright. He‘s kind of complaining about how much is owed him. He was up here by himself. He‘ll tell you about how his year was. We don‘t have that. We have guys that get on you a little bit. We haven‘t done our hazing dress up yet. Hudson‘s already been warning us, so it‘s coming. He‘s plotting. It‘ll be fun, though. We haven‘t had it yet. It‘s a long time coming.

SHANKS: Is it tough splitting time with Langy, since you two are so close? Or does that make it easier?
JOHNSON: No. It's not tough. That' the other thing, up here, it's all about winning. In the minor leagues, you get into situations where you're not rooting against somebody, but you're kind of like, ‘this guy is not my favorite person' (if they're taking away your playing time). But up here everybody gets along so well. You genuinely want everyone to do so well. It doesn't matter if you're in any kind of competition, whether it's Brian (Jordan) coming off the DL and I had to go down until September. If that was going to happen, if I wasn't hitting well, and he came in and got us to the World Series… True, I'd want to be up here, but that's just part of this. You've got to play well, and if you're not playing well, you've got to cheer your teammates on.

SHANKS: Is the consistency the one thing you've got to improve?
JOHNSON: Yeah. That's always been it. I've been streaky my whole life. I've always been a mental guy, and to be a streaky hitter on top of that makes it tougher. If I can get more consistent, I think that'll help.

SHANKS: Did you like hitting second?
JOHNSON: I don't care. I've done it. In the minor leagues, it's all about who is hot. I've never had one manager keep the same lineup except for AAA. It's a little different. As long as I'm consistent, I don't care where I hit, sixth, seventh, or second. Being in the front (of the lineup) is more fun since you get more at bats.

SHANKS: You've heard Bobby Cox talk about you. What's it like to know the manager likes you?
JOHNSON: I know he's always had my back, just cause of the slow start. That just says a lot about him. He's got our backs and we've got his. You're never going to hear anyone in hear talk bad about him. That's the way he is too.

SHANKS: You know a lot of rookies that went 1-for-31 could have gotten sent to AAA and might have been never heard from again. But he had faith in you all along.
JOHNSON: Sure. I think there's one common misconception by fans, that you're only as good as you've been playing for a while. There's always room for adjustment and improvement. You're not going to hit .390 or .400 forever. Francoeur's tearing it up, but if he did this for the rest of his life he'd be the greatest hitter of all time. You've got to think about it like that. You're going to have ups and downs. I think Chipper Jones is probably the most impressive hitter that I've seen in the big leagues. I'm not just saying that cause he's a teammate. He's just so consistent in everything he does - his approach. And he hit .230 last year. Things happen.

SHANKS: And as a young player, that helps you to see that, right?
JOHNSON: It helps. I know it know. I don't think fans realize it - how hard it is and the toll our body takes. It's almost like you wish every fan could know what it's like to have a game where you go 4-for-4 and then come back the next night and go 0-for-4 with four strikeouts and not know what you're doing. It's really frustrating that people take for granted the consistency of Chipper Jones. They just expect certain things out of guys, and if the young guys come up and don't do that, they say you're not any good. Mentally, I don't think people realize the grind you go through. The physical stuff you can control, but the mental stuff is different. That's frustrating.

SHANKS: But this has been a fun summer, hasn't it?
JOHNSON: It's been awesome. Having all the young guys here has just been awesome. We're all best friends. (Blaine Boyer walks by). Me and him have been here since day one - when we could first report to pro ball after signing. It's crazy to look back and flash back over all you've gone through, and now you're here. It's crazy how it's all come together. I hope it's for another decade, just like Chipper and Smoltz and that group.

SHANKS: The other day at the Hall of Fame banquet, when the 1995 team was here, there was talk about the comparisons. This could be a special team here.
JOHNSON: I hope so. The fun that we're having….I can't imagine it being like this everywhere. If it feels this good to come to the park everyday and feels this good to root for each other the way we do…then ten or fourteen more years of this could be awesome.


Bill Shanks's book, Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, includes part of a chapter on Kelly Johnson. The book is available online at amazon.com and at Barnes and Noble bookstores across the country. Bill can be reached at thebravesshow@email.com.

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