Grateful Unit returns to Seattle for first pitch
Retired lefty tosses one more strike to old batterymate
SEATTLE -- Randy Johnson has this retirement thing all figured out.
The former Mariners left-hander and future Hall of Famer made his return to Seattle a stylish one Monday, throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before the Mariners' 2010 home opener at Safeco Field, hugging his former batterymate, Dan Wilson, who caught the strike, and then hugging and posing for pictures with former teammates Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner, who held an impromptu reunion of the famous 1995 team that helped make this sparkling ballpark possible.
Johnson, clad in a black button-down shirt and jeans, waved to the sellout crowd, which gave him a booming standing ovation as he walked to the mound from the outfield in front of a huge banner, circa '95, with his snarling face peering out over the webbing of his glove.
Welcome back, Randy, indeed.
And when Johnson met with a familiar media throng before his pitch, he said he might have something literary to work on -- a story that might sell millions of Big Units.
"I've learned a lot through this franchise, and it's kind of nice to come back here and see all the faces that are still here," Johnson said. "There's a lot of history here, and someone should someday do a book on the Seattle Mariner history, because it's something to be written about.
"Maybe that's what I'll do with my free time."
All kidding aside, the Big Unit, is the author of 303 career victories and 130 of them with the Mariners. Acquired from the Montreal Expos during the 1989 season, he became the franchise's first pitcher to toss a no-hitter, win at least 20 games and capture the first of his five Cy Young Awards.
He compiled a 130-74 regular-season record with a 3.42 ERA while recording 2,162 strikeouts in 1,838 innings with the Mariners. Overall, the Big Unit pitched for six organizations and finished his stellar career with a 303-166 record, 4,875 strikeouts, two no-hitters -- including a perfect game -- and one World Series Most Valuable Player Award.
He said he is grateful for the years he spent in the Emerald City and still tied to the city in many ways, having met his wife and welcomed the birth of his children here. He also became a great pitcher in Seattle, something he said he'll forever be thankful for.
"I got the opportunity to pitch every fifth day here in Seattle and everybody saw -- good, bad or indifferent -- what I was back then," Johnson said. "And being given that opportunity was huge in my career.
"And I grew, along with the franchise and with fan support, throughout the years. In 1995, it really came together for the city, the players and the organization."
Team president Chuck Armstrong agreed, which is one reason why he invited Johnson to take part in the home-opener festivities virtually as soon as he heard the big lefty had retired over the winter. Johnson accepted as soon as he heard about it and joked about it Monday.
"I was still in shape then, so the answer was easy," Johnson said. "Now I'm not so sure. Maybe we can find someone who's 6-foot-10 out on the street who's got a good arm. But I'm excited -- bounce the ball or not."
Having Griffey, Martinez, Wilson and Buhner from the "Refuse to Lose" team that beat the Yankees in the dramatic '95 American League Division Series only added to the emotion of the moment.
"It was truly poignant to watch, because all of those guys were from the 1995 team, and that's when we arrived as a franchise," Armstrong said. "That's when Safeco Field became a reality. And all of that crystallized in that one moment, with all those guys coming together. They were all such a huge part of it."
Griffey, the only active player from that team still in a Mariners uniform, agreed.
"It's always good to have a guy that meant so much to the organization come back, and now, him being retired, him throwing out first pitch on Opening Day for us here in Seattle, it's a pretty big day for all of us," Griffey said.
"For 10 years, he gave his heart and soul to this organization and we're glad that he's coming here for Opening Day."
And as for those retirement plans?
Well, Johnson said he'd eventually like to get back into baseball in some form because he enjoys talking about the game and had fun imparting pitching wisdom on the San Francisco Giants' young starting rotation while he was with that club last year.
He said he tried to learn how to snow ski over the winter but had such a colossal wipeout -- losing his poles and a ski -- that one of his daughters informed him it was called a "yard sale."
But on Monday, he was back in his element and standing atop one of his favorite pieces of dirt in the world -- the pitcher's mound in Seattle.
"I've always enjoyed coming back here and been well-received," Johnson said. "The fans have always been great. I wouldn't expect anything less."
Doug Miller is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.