D-backs legend Johnson talks USO trip, future
PHOENIX -- Former Diamondbacks star Randy Johnson was back at Chase Field on Monday but had more meaningful things to talk about than baseball.
The five-time Cy Young winner shared details of a recent USO trip that included more than one scare when mortar fire hit the Afghanistan base where a contingent of celebrities entertained U.S. troops.
The trip in April was Johnson's third USO trip and made stops in Italy, Afghanistan and Germany as well as the USS Enterprise. The more Johnson reflected on the trip, the more baseball paled in comparison.
"I was really connecting the dots from the World Series to now being in a battle zone to going to Germany and seeing the Wounded Warriors," Johnson said. "To actually be able to go to a battle area ... was probably the most meaningful thing I've ever done in my whole life, and the most real thing."
Johnson also discussed some of his other post-baseball activities, such as photography and travel, but said none could compare to the intensity of his stop in Afghanistan.
Johnson, along with the likes of actors Anthony Anderson and Dennis Haysbert, first visited Camp Leatherneck, a United States Marine Corps base in Afghanistan's Helmand Province. The group then traveled to a base in the neighboring Kandahar province. It was there, within 30 minutes of arriving, that sirens went off and guests were told to lie on the ground until it was clear to head for a bunker.
Johnson said that on five occasions during the meet and greet, he and the rest of the USO group were forced to hit the deck before being escorted to a concrete bunker where little could be seen but the faces of others illuminated by lighters and cell phones. The scary moment provided what Johnson called the "eeriest photo I've ever taken."
"If that's not the most adrenaline-filled stuff, I don't know what is," Johnson said.
The incidents proved relatively minor, and Johnson said he learned later that insurgents in the area sometimes set mortars on a timer to go off at certain times, often when word of a USO event has somehow gotten out.
The next stop, in Germany, gave Johnson and the others a chance to meet with troops wounded in battle.
"One thing that struck me even more was the soldiers I saw who were mentally and emotionally scarred," Johnson said. "This is reality. It's not like watching a show (on TV).
"I used to think the world was coming to an end if I lost a game. That's how serious I took (baseball). But this was real stuff."
Johnson also spent time Monday discussing a new sponsorship with Swiss watchmaker Ulysse Nardin and, of course, a little baseball. Johnson said he is enjoying the freedom of setting his own schedule in retirement but admitted he might want to get back involved in baseball in some capacity once his retirement "bubble" bursts.
"I don't foresee being a coach, because those hours are much longer than even a player's hours," Johnson said. "I just hadn't had a summer in 22 years, so I'm really enjoying doing these things now."
Johnson said he has put some distance between himself and baseball since retiring but has begun creeping back toward it a bit. He is being inducted next month into the Seattle Mariners' Ring of Honor and said he could see himself somehow involved with the D-backs if he returns to baseball, despite a less-than-amicable end to his playing days in Arizona.
"I know things didn't end the way I would have liked them to," Johnson said. "I ended up finishing up with another organization (the Giants), so I was a little disappointed about that, but it's kind of water under the bridge now."
Johnson wanted to remain with the D-backs for the 2009 season in order to win his 300th game in an Arizona uniform. He said it hurt a little bit when he wasn't brought back despite his willingness to take a drastic pay cut.
During Monday's game, Johnson was introduced on the Chase Field video board as a "future Hall of Famer." While there's hardly a more sure thing to be enshrined in Cooperstown than Johnson, he was reluctant to talk too much about the possibility.
"I haven't even thought about it," Johnson said. "It's really irrelative right now because it's so premature. ... I don't want to assume anything."
So no thoughts on what hat -- D-backs or Mariners -- might be on his head in bronze one day?
Nope. Johnson wasn't biting, saying he hasn't even thought about what team he'd represent should he be voted into the Hall of Fame.