Johnson, a University of Kentucky alum and Georgia native, was signed by the Astros as a NDFA in 2011. He was used as a true utility player at Tri-City in 2011, spending time at 2B, LF, SS, RF and 3B, and had a batting line of .236/.397/.280/.678. In 57 games, he stole 21 bases and walked 41 times (37 SO). His batting average increased to .288 with runners on and .292 with RISP.
MLB Reports posted this interview with Neiko back in December. Since he'd been interviewed so recently, I thought I'd ask just a couple of questions for his birthday write-up. (By the way, the Astros have his birthday in the system wrong. He was born on the 24th not the 2nd.)
WTH: How did you meet and get to be friends with Brandon Phillips?
NJ: Brandon Phillips was actually a good friend of my brother when I was younger and I hung out with his younger brother PJ and his sister Porsha. Brandon went to Redan High School (the same high school I attended) with my brother and they both played on the same high school baseball team. I always went to watch the games when he and my brother played. I have been a Brandon Phillips fan since his high school days. I always hang out with him when I get a chance and he's always there to talk whenever I need to. He's like another big brother to me and has helped me throughout my baseball career. I would go hang out with him in Cincinnati when I went to the University of Kentucky and I have always stayed in contact with him.
WTH: What have you been working on the most over the winter and how do you think that will help you going into the season?
NJ: I have worked on a lot this offseason. With this being my first offseason there was a bit of a transition period. At first I didn't know how to handle this much time off so I talked to Brandon and my roommate from college Collin Cowgill who is currently with the Oakland A's. They told me how much time to take off and when to start back working out. That really helped a lot because I didn't want to start working out too soon and burn myself out before spring training. I have focused on my swing the most and making sure I addressed some minor things for spring training. I wanted to gain some weight, which I did, because I know with a long season your weight will fluctuate and I don't need to lose any more weight lol. I have also worked on my conditioning and speed so I can continue to be a threat on the bases. I think these things will help me tremendously and enhance my abilities as a baseball player.
WTH: Can you tell me something about yourself that most fans don't know and that might surprise them?
NJ: Something about me that most people don't know is that I am a PRIMETIME BOWLER. My high score is 294 and I was one strike away from a perfect game but on the last bowl I blew it. I will take all challenges and I have 3 bowling balls and shoes so I am ready to play anytime anywhere. I am also a pretty good Call of Duty player (ONLY ON XBOX THOUGH) so if you can't beat me in bowling maybe you'll have a better chance at Call of Duty. The last thing people might not know is I HATE SPIDERS with a passion. If I see a spider in my room I won't go to sleep till I catch it and if I can't catch it I will sometimes sleep in another room. It's just something about spiders I don't like.
Thanks for your time Neiko. Here's wishing you a terrific birthday with no spiders in sight!!!!!
Born in Windsor, Ontario, Clapp was drafted out of Texas Tech by the Cardinals in 1996 and played in 23 games for St. Louis in 2001. He was the hitting coach for Lexington and for Corpus Christi before being named Manager of the Tri-City team for 2011. Clapp has history playing for Team Canada in various venues throughout the years. This fall, he helped to coach Team Canada to a gold medal in the Pan Am Games.
Former Astros with birthdays today ~
LHP Frank Riccelli (59)
A first round pick by the Giants in 1971, Riccelli pitched in 13 games for Houston in 1978 and 1979 with a 3.60 ERA and a 1.640 WHIP.
C Brian Esposito (33)
Brian has played in 3 games in the major leagues (2 for Houston in 2010) with 3 plate appearances and he is still looking for that elusive first hit. He signed with the Reds as a free agent in December after spending 3 seasons in the Astros minor league system.