North Johnson is heading south.
The Gwinnett Braves on Tuesday announced the hiring of Johnson as their new general manager. The veteran front office executive replaces Bruce Baldwin, who resigned in October after successfully overseeing the club's re-location from Richmond following the 2008 season.
Johnson, who has more than three decades of Minor League baseball experience, spent the past three seasons as GM of the Carolina League's Myrtle Beach Pelicans. He also has spent time at the helm of the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and Kinston Indians, totaling 17 years in the latter location.
"North has a proven track record of success everywhere he's been and we think he is the perfect fit for the Gwinnett Braves," Mike Plant, Atlanta Braves executive vice president of business operations, said in a statement. "We look forward to his leadership with the team and in the community."
Reached by phone on Tuesday afternoon, Johnson stressed that the latest turn of events in his professional career was not something he had planned on.
"This all came together [last month] at the Winter Meetings," he explained. "Mike Plant asked if he could talk to me about this opportunity. ... We got together a couple weeks after that and I got the job offer. It was a really unexpected turn of events, just an incredible offer that I couldn't think of turning down."
That's not to say it will be easy for Johnson to leave Myrtle Beach. The club has experienced significant growth during his tenure, cultivating a loyal fan base within a tourist-centric market that offers a wealth of other recreational activities.
"I really thought Myrtle Beach was going to be my final stop," he said. "Working with and for [owner] Chuck Greenberg was a tremendous opportunity to learn and grow, and we were able to increase the energy and excitement level associated with the team. If Chuck hadn't given me that opportunity, then [the Gwinnett offer] wouldn't have presented itself."
The Gwinnett Braves, owned by the Atlanta Braves, played their inaugural season in 2009 after spending more than four decades in Richmond. While it's too early for Johnson to discuss specific plans for 2010, he's ready to hit the ground running.
"The biggest thing for me to do now is to meet with the staff and figure out their strengths," he said. "We're going to do the fun things that Minor League baseball is known for while taking advantage of a phenomenal facility."
Regardless, it's going to take some time for the reality of the situation to sink in.
"I know that a lot of people were shocked and surprised to hear I was leaving Myrtle Beach, but no one is as shocked and surprised as I am," Johnson said.