Johnson not bitter at Blue Jays
Outfielder enjoying himself with Cubs after spring release
TORONTO -- Walking inside Rogers Centre turned out to be a strange experience for Reed Johnson on Friday afternoon. For the past five seasons, the Blue Jays' domed ballpark was his primary place of work.
Now with the Cubs, and making his first trip to Toronto since being released by the Jays in Spring Training, Johnson suddenly didn't know his way around the stadium. Heading to the Jays' clubhouse would've been no problem. Finding where the visitors' reside, that was another story.
"I had never been in this locker room," Johnson said with a laugh. "So I didn't even know where to go or anything. People were telling me where to go. It was definitely different walking into this locker room."
Johnson is all smiles these days, enjoying life on the western edge of Lake Michigan and suiting up for the Cubs -- owners of the Major Leagues' best record. The same couldn't be said about spring, when Johnson wore a constant expression of uncertainty, considering his situation at the time.
The Blue Jays signed left fielder Shannon Stewart in February and let the pair battle for a spot on the Opening Day roster. Stewart eventually won the job -- the explanation being that the team wanted to go with more offense -- and Johnson was promptly signed by Chicago after being released in late March.
Looking back, Johnson believes the move might've been a blessing in disguise.
"I wouldn't want to be any other place right now," Johnson said about Chicago. "At the time, it was shocking, because you're out of a job and you don't know what's going to happen to you next.
"But, as soon as I heard that there were multiple teams interested, it's flattering to know," he continued. "There's no better feeling than being in Chicago."
Johnson hardly sounded bitter about the early-season switch, but time and a pile of wins can help hide any hard feelings.
The 31-year-old Johnson wasn't in the starting lineup for the Cubs for Friday's Interleague opener against the Blue Jays, but neither was Stewart, who is currently on the disabled list with a sprained right ankle. Johnson is all too familiar with the DL, having missed nearly three months last year with a back injury.
Johnson underwent surgery to repair a herniated disc in his lower back last April. He returned to Toronto in July, but wasn't the same offensively, finishing with a .236 average in 79 games. It was another reason for the Jays to consider Johnson a risk, but an issue that the outfielder said has been rendered moot.
"It's great. Everything is fine," said Johnson, who suited up for Toronto from 2003-07. "I haven't had any problems -- any setbacks. I feel like nothing's really happened. I'm 100 percent and keeping myself in good shape."
This season, Johnson has hit at a .267 clip with a pair of home runs and 28 RBIs in 52 games for the Cubs, entering Friday. True to his career trend, he's pounded left-handed pitchers, posting a .318 average against southpaws. In 52 games with the Jays this year, Stewart has hit .240.
Johnson said the Jays were upfront with him about why they decided to go with Stewart.
"They said they wanted more offense and that was the route they were going to go," Johnson said. "I'm a career .280 hitter, so I don't think I'm really that bad offensively to begin with. But, that's the decision they made."
Johnson believes the move from Toronto to Chicago was for the best.
"There's no other place I'd rather be right now," he said. "Hopefully, I'm here for a long time."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.