Johnson father and son share experience

Johnson father and son share experience

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Two lives separated by long distances and grueling schedules reconvened for one afternoon at home plate during the traditional lineup exchange at Osceola County Stadium on Tuesday.

Red Sox first-base coach Ron Johnson and his son, Astros infield prospect Chris Johnson, have never had a traditional father-son relationship -- something so many who play sports for a living can relate to.

But Ron, a longtime adviser and the manager of Triple-A Pawtucket the past five years, said the one bond that has kept he and his son close has been the one shared through baseball.

That was exactly the case on Tuesday afternoon, when a father who will likely never end up coaching third base during the 2010 season was able to stand about 10 feet away from a son who will probably not start a game at third base in a Major League uniform all year.

It was the type of special moment no Spring Training box score can ever justify.

And, as Ron said afterward, "It was a weird feeling. It really was. Because it's different. I've never been in a situation where you look out there and go, 'Well, he's a good player, I like the second baseman, and I love the third baseman -- literally! It's kind of strange."

Before Ron coached third base and Chris started at the hot corner -- playing all nine innings and finishing 0-for-2 with a walk -- the two were able to meet at home plate with the umpires before the Astros' home game against the Red Sox.

"It was fun," said Chris, who received a text message from his father on Monday night, reminding him not to put too much pressure on himself. "It's just good to see him. Given where I'm at and where he's at, it's tough. We probably won't see each other for a long time."

Ron saw Chris play one time when his son was in high school in Fort Myers, Fla., he never saw him play for nearby Stetson University or Florida Atlantic, and the first time he saw the Astros' 2006 fourth-round pick play as a professional was when the Red Sox surprised him by flying him to watch him make his Major League debut last September.

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"I didn't really understand why he couldn't come and stuff like that, but as soon as I got into pro ball, I started to mature a little," said Chris, whose parents are divorced. "Now I understand."

"It's normal for us," Ron added.

Despite the distance, Chris said, his father has been crucial to his success. Especially now, since the 23-year-old is coming off a solid 2009 season in the Minor Leagues and is likely return the Minors.

Ron preaches patience to his son.

"If I'm ever stressed about something, he knows what goes on in those meetings, he knows what the coaching staff talks about, and it's good to just call him and say, 'Hey, this is what's going on,' " Chris said. "He'll give me his advice. Most of the time, he just says, 'Keep working hard, just relax and be patient, and you'll be all right.' "

Because the Astros won on Tuesday, 3-0, it was on Ron to buy dinner, and the two got to spend some much-desired time together. After that, though, the rest of the baseball season beckons. Chris is likely to start his fifth season in Triple-A and Ron will continue his first season coaching in the big leagues with the Red Sox.

At least they have cell phones.

"The cell phone works wonders at times," said Astros manager Brad Mills, whose son, Beau, is a first-base prospect for the Indians. On Monday night, for example, Mills went to his hotel and watched his son play against the Brewers online. He said that's "always fun."

"Almost everybody in this game seems to sacrifice geographically in some fashion for being away from their families for extended periods of time," Astros general manager Ed Wade said prior to Tuesday's game. "I can attest to that, having spent 33-plus years in the game. You spend a lot of time away from your family.

"I'm sure he's hoping there's a circumstance where [Chris] has a chance to put his best foot forward and doesn't hurt the Red Sox in the process."

Tuesday's contest was also a reunion for Red Sox manager Terry Francona and Mills, who coached under Francona for a combined 10 seasons -- including the past six as his bench coach. The two were college roommates, Major League teammates and longtime coworkers, and they teamed up to make sure the Johnsons had their special moment.

Ron, already very hyper and exuberant, admitted that he was nervous going into the game and surprisingly excited, considering it's a Spring Training game.

"He should be," Francona said. "I'm glad it's happening in Spring Training, when you can take the time to enjoy it. Because it is, it's pretty cool."

Ron said that the one thing he took away from the experience was the fact that his son looks like he belongs in the Show.

"It was different being on the field, with him, in uniform, standing at the third-base coach's box, and there's Terry Francona, Brad Mills, Jason Varitek catching, now [Jon] Lester's on the mound, Roy Oswalt," Johnson said. "And you're looking at a guy on the other end who, obviously, you have emotional ties to, and in my opinion, I'm going, 'Man, he fits out here.' He moves around, and he looks like he can play here. It's exciting."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.