Big Unit comes to town; Johnson observes Sod Poodles in role with Diamondbacks front office

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Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson, now a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks front office, came to town last week to take a look at the team’s Class AA affiliate Amarillo Sod Poodles at Hodgetown. [John Moore/ Press Pass Sports]

The man who picked up the biggest win in Arizona Diamondbacks history came to town last week to give their Class AA affiliate an idea of what the big leagues are like.

And they don’t come any bigger than Randy Johnson.

The Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher, also known as the Big Unit who won game seven of the World Series for the Diamondbacks 20 years ago and was one of the most dominating and intimidating pitchers the game has ever seen, was at Hodgetown to witness the Amarillo Sod Poodles. Now an assistant to the president in the Diamondbacks front office, Johnson was in town in his function as an ambassador for the Sod Poodles parent club, taking a look at young talent is it makes its way to Arizona.

Johnson spoke with area media last Thursday at Hodgetown about a wide range of topics ranging from the relationship major league clubs have with their minor league communities to his own legendary pitching career as a 6-foot-10 left-hander whose imposing figure and blazing fastball (among his other pitches) left an imprint on opposing hitters. Here are a few of the topics Johnson addressed.

How often do you get out to the Diamondbacks affiliates and do you play much of an instructional role with young pitchers?

“This is the fifth affiliate I’ve been to. I’ve been to quite a few other ones and basically it varies in what I’m going there for. A lot of times it will be more about meeting employees and saying hello to the players. In the past I’ve been dressing out in my uniform watching pitchers throw and giving them a little bit of feedback. I still enjoy doing things from that perspective, but now that I’ve moved on from my playing days, I’m doing more in the capacity of being an ambassador for the Arizona Diamondbacks. I got inducted in the Hall of Fame and represented them in 2015.”

What does minor league baseball mean not only to major league organizations but also the communities?

“I talked to a lot of the working staff (in Amarillo) and I told them minor league baseball is the foundation to major league baseball. It’s the training ground for the major league team. If you didn’t have that you wouldn’t be able to outfit a team. You need that because a lot of players aren’ ready. History dictates that there’s only been a handful of players who have gone from high school or college directly to the major leagues. All the other ones have to be groomed at some level for a certain period of time to be able to go on. They’re all important. Minor league baseball is extremely essential to major league baseball.”

What do you think of this stadium and how did Class AA facilities with the Montreal Expos compare?

“It was 40 years ago. They didn’t even have cell phones then, so I’d say this is incredible. Minor league facilities are miniature major league ballparks to some extend with the suites and training facilities. Some are extremely elaborate. I’ve been to about 10 of them and the ones I’ve been to have been extremely nice. To compare them to 40 years ago is no comparison. It’s where we are in 2021.”

This is the 20th anniversary of the Diamondbacks winning the World Series against the New York Yankees following Sept. 11. What do you remember most about returning to baseball in the aftermath of that

“Walking Ground Zero during the World Series and the ground’s still smoldering. I’ll never forget that feeling. I don’t remember much of the regular season. The first two games were in Arizona and the next three games were in New York. It wasn’t mandatory, but if the players wanted to go walk Ground Zero to support the first responders and the people who were working there and shake their hands and tell them how important they are, quite a few of them and the coaching staff could go there and experience that. It’s the one thing I remember more than anything else in the World Series because it far outweighed anything. It was very impactful in my memory bank.”

You were a very intimidating force on the mound, especially against left-handed hitters. How much of that was a foundation of your game?

“I just went out there and pitched, I didn’t mean to hurt anybody’s feelings. A lot of times left-handers got hits off me. I just enjoyed the game for what it was. I tried to develop every year and when I started peaking I think it was easy to see things where I needed to improve. I went out there and pitched every fifth day and tried to learn a little bit more about how to win ball games. All the intimidating stuff was never who I said I was or who I set out to be.”

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