Johnson pitches in with Junior Giants field
Big Unit helps hometown of Livermore get new diamond
SAN FRANCISCO -- Randy Johnson represented the Giants on the field Tuesday morning for the first time since early July. But he was christening a sparkling new diamond in his native Livermore, not pitching off the mound at AT&T Park.In association with the Good Tidings Foundation and the city's recreation and park district as well as various donors, the not-for-profit Giants Community Fund and the 303-game winner dedicated Randy Johnson Junior Giants Field. "It's cool to be able to come back and have your hand in the community in some way," Johnson said after addressing a crowd of children, many of whom attend next-door Marylin Avenue Elementary, and at least a few hundred autograph seekers of all ages. "That's one thing I never forget about Livermore, because it's where it all started." Johnson, 45, recalled his 7-year-old self playing Little League at nearby Max Baer Park. His best memory: receiving snack-shack coupons after wins or losses. Tuesday, he stood tall at May Nissen Park -- it's named after a former English teacher at Livermore High, where Johnson graduated in 1982. Mere feet from the refurbished field bearing his name, a much younger Johnson ran around on the soccer field and volleyed on the tennis courts. Visibly nervous for a future baseball Hall of Famer, he held the microphone and told kids to focus on their educations, whether or not they aspired to follow in his path to athletic stardom. "This doesn't compare with anything from a professional standpoint," Johnson said after his speech. "This doesn't measure with that. This is giving back to the town that I grew up in, and that inevitably far outweighs what you probably do professionally." Told about the organization's Peter A. Magowan Fields for Kids program when he signed a one-year, $8-million free-agent contract with the Giants last December, Johnson knew he wanted to bring a field to Livermore, his "home away from home." (Now an Arizona resident, Johnson also made a significant donation to build a field for the Diamondbacks' similar foundation.) With Giants managing general partner Bill Neukom and president Larry Baer in attendance and broadcaster Duane Kuiper emceeing the festivities Tuesday, the city's office-holders also offered their thanks. Mayor Marshall H. Kamena joked with the 6-foot-10-inch Johnson, "You look so much taller on TV." Livermore's recreation and park district's staffs will be charged with maintaining the renovated field, which includes new dugouts, fences, an irrigation system and fresh grass. The project was completed in six weeks. Through partnerships with various players and business sponsors, the Community Fund has helped build or improve 21 fields throughout the Bay Area over the last decade, most recently with Daly City's Aaron Rowand Junior Giants Field in May. Livermore's new ballfield will also play host to a Junior Giants league gratis for children. Johnson caught (didn't toss) the ceremonial first pitch Tuesday, needing three tries to secure a heater thrown by a future participant, young Evelyn Pizer. Johnson, the pitcher not the philanthropist, remains shelved with tearing in his left (throwing) rotator cuff, sustained in his last appearance on July 5. He has been training near his Paradise Valley home with Brett Fischer -- the same man who aided in his recovery following his three back surgeries and two knee surgeries -- for the past six weeks. Johnson won't pick up a baseball until August's end. He is eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list on Sept. 4. "I was told I'd probably only get the opportunity to do this [rehabilitation] one time, so we're going to take the conservative route and take some more time because there's not that much time left. "This whole year [in the Giants organization] has been great. It's all been scripted really well except for the one part where I got hurt. ... I'm really motivated to come back."
Andrew Pentis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.