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The artist within

Micah Johnson has blossomed as an artist in two short years. Joe Robbins|Getty Images
By Roger Mooney
Sunday 25 February 2018 22.25
Rays utility fielder Micah Johnson has this painting of Jackie Robinson on display at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Photo provided by Micah Johnson
Rays utility fielder Micah Johnson painted this picture of his nephew, Elijah. Photo provided by Micah Johnson

PORT CHARLOTTE – Micah Johnson's career as a painter began one morning during spring training of 2016 when Dodgers manager Dave Roberts asked Johnson to stand in front of the group and introduce himself to his new teammates.

Johnson plays the piano, but he did not want to mention it, because he figured Roberts would make him play in front of the team. He did some painting the previous offseason, dabbling (not very well, he admitted) with watercolors. So, Johnson mentioned that he paints.

And Roberts asked him to paint a picture of Dodgers spring training instructor Maury Wills.

"It was really bad, but it motived me," Johnson said. "Guys were lying to my face telling me, 'It's good. It's really good.' I was surprised. It gave me some false confidence, and I kept working at it."

Johnson began painting in earnest and uncovered, to his amazement, the artist inside of himself.

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In two years, Johnson had had his work featured in three solo exhibits, has a painting of Jackie Robinson displayed in the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City and had his work displayed last July at the All-Star Game in Miami.

"He's an artist," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "Pretty impressive stuff."

In no way did Johnson, utility fielder trying to earn a job with the Rays, envision this success in front of a canvas. But, he quickly added, "You can pick up anything you want if you just work at it. Anything."

Johnson's painting provided the perfect outlet for his frustration of lack of playing time last season while with the Braves. He would return to his apartment after another night of riding the bench and paint for five hours, sometimes more. It helped that he was working on pieces for an exhibit at the Woodruff Art Center in Atlanta.

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"I don't think when I paint," he said. "I don't think about a single thing."

During his season in Los Angeles, Johnson was introduced by former teammate Joc Pederson to Shelby Murphy and his brother, Sandy. The two painters, who go by Shelby and Sandy, became mentors, inviting Johnson to spend the offseason painting in their downtown LA studio.

"Micah is a very passionate guy and it easily translated into his art work," Shelby said. "It's like anything in life. Things are easiest when you have the natural ability, which he has. He's naturally a good artist and on top of that he really connected to it and found a deep love in it and that pushed his perseverance."

Johnson's work ranges from paintings of his baseball glove to his nephew, Elijah, riding a tricycle to a young girl holding a gun with the words, "Make art not war" in the background.

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Johnson signed a one-year, major league deal with the Rays in the offseason only to be designated for assignment Feb. 13 when Sergio Romo was added to the roster. It was the third time he was DFA'd during the offseason. Johnson is not worried. He said he has to perform well this spring to make the team regardless of whether he is on the 40-man roster or not.

Anything is possible, he added. Just look at his life as an artist that began with an off-the-cuff comment.

"It's an amazing world," Johnson said. "It just shows you, I believe God has a plan. You don't know the plan. You don't know the path. if I get released tomorrow, okay, I gave it my best. There will be something else. Two years ago, I never touched a brush. Two years later I've had my own shows. What's it going to be in five, 10 years?"

Contact Roger Mooney at rmooney@tampabay.com. Follow @rogermooney50

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