When the Chicago Cubs pulled Reed Johnson in the middle of the fifth inning Monday night, on the eve of the trade deadline, just as he was about to take the plate for the second time in a big offensive inning, everybody knew he’d been traded.
What nobody in the stands, national TV audience, or Twitter universe, nor even Johnson, knew was where.
After 10 years in the major leagues, the 35-year-old reserve outfielder felt what it was like to be traded for the first time in his career. He gave his teammates hugs and handshakes in the dugout but didn’t find out where he was going until general manager Jed Hoyer met him in the clubhouse. It was Atlanta.
“Just excitement to come to this organization,” said Johnson, explaining his emotions while standing in front of a new locker in Atlanta about 17 hours later. “…I know they’ve got a good group of guys, and it’s exciting to come over to a group like that that’s not only a good group of guys but a good group of guys that’s only a few games out of first place as well.”
On his feet were a pair of Dan Uggla’s size 9 ½ black shoes. All his old cleats, and shirts and socks for that matter, were royal blue. “I’m thinking I’m going to go into my locker and pack for a normal road trip and I’m looking at all my stuff, I’m like ‘Can’t take anything,’” he said.
What made it south on his 9:30 a.m. flight to Atlanta Tuesday morning was his glove, a bat bag, a rolling suitcase and a suit which hung in his locker. He came straight to Turner Field to meet his new teammates. He’d check into his hotel after Tuesday night’s game.
Wife and two young kids will come later, as will a shipment of more equipment from the Cubs clubhouse attendants.
Johnson compared last night to April 11, the day his daughter Jordyn was born.
“I was up at a 2 in the morning, she was born at 7, then I went over to the field at 11:45 for a 1 p.m. game,” Johnson said. “I was kind of in a daze. That’s kind of where I’m at right now.”
Johnson said he hadn’t been pulled from a game like that since he got his first major league call-up from Triple-A in 2003. Waiting for him in Atlanta Tuesday was the same manager who’d greeted him on his arrival in Toronto back then – Braves bench coach Carlos Tosca.
Tosca has been raving about Johnson for years, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said, sentiments he and the front office shared. Braves general manager Frank Wren said shortly after the trade Monday night that Johnson was the Braves’ top choice for a bench piece and has been since last July.
“Every time we come in town and I see Carlos and Fredi (Gonzalez) and those guys, they’ll always mention it,” Johnson said. “’Hey we’re trying to get you over here.’ You’ve been around for 10 years and I’ve never been traded. It’s almost like you believe it when you’re packing your stuff up. Obviously I’m believing now. I’m in the clubhouse. It actually happened.”
The Braves optioned Jose Constanza to Triple-A Gwinnett to make room for Johnson on the roster.
Johnson has other ties to the Braves. He’s a native of Riverside, Calif. but lives in Las Vegas during the offseason and works the same baseball camps as Greg Maddux. He played with Eric Hinske for four years with the Blue Jays. “He gets his uniform dirty just like Martin (Prado),” Hinske said.
And Johnson’s father grew up a Braves fan in upstate New York.
“He’s always been a fan of whatever team I played for,” Johnson said. “But now I’m sure he’s really going to be fired up.”
Johnson will get his first start on Wednesday against Marlins left-hander Wade LeBlanc. And this time he’ll be going on a good nights’ sleep.
“When you think about the whole picture, it’s kind of overwhelming,” Johnson said. “(But) knock out one thing at a time. Everybody around here has been really helpful so far.”