Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson meets with fans during Camp Zama USO visit
CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Nov. 6, 2018) -- Randy Johnson, the retired pitcher who racked up a nearly unrivaled list of records and accolades during his 22 years in the majors, met with fans and community members during a visit here Nov. 4.
This was Johnson's second visit to Camp Zama after first coming to the installation seven years ago as part of his association with the USO, with which he has been involved since 2010. Johnson signed memorabilia and posed for photos with the hundreds who came out, first at the Camp Zama Exchange and later at the Sagamihara Housing Area Club.
"The purpose of this visit … is to encourage and boost morale, and come in and say hello to everybody," said Johnson, nicknamed "The Big Unit" after his 6-foot-10-inch height. "It's a great opportunity to shake hands and say thank you. I've been honored and privileged to have met a lot of the men and women who serve our country from all different branches."
Johnson walked into the Exchange to see a line that stretched from the front of the store to the back. The fans held gloves, baseballs, baseball cards and jerseys and caps bearing the logos of the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks, with whom he spent a combined 14 years of his major league career and the latter with whom he won the World Series in 2001.
"I'm actually from Phoenix, [Arizona], and I've seen the Diamondbacks play on occasion," said Ryan DiSilvestro, who works for the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center at Camp Zama and who wore his Diamondbacks cap to the meet-and-greet. "Randy Johnson is one of the greatest pitchers of all time. I didn't really expect this to ever happen, so I thought I'd take advantage of it while I'm here and get an autograph."
Johnson's visit even drew fans and visitors from outside Camp Zama, including several players from the Soubudai Friends Baseball Club, a Japanese youth team. The players, all wearing their uniforms, approached Johnson in silent awe as they held out a bag or glove or cap for him to sign.
"It was amazing getting to meet a pitcher who accomplished so many great things in his career," said Kanta Kishi, 14, a member of the Soubudai Friends.
"I'm still excited having gotten to meet Randy Johnson," said teammate Yusei Takahashi, also 14.
Another visitor, Navy Aircrewman Lee Walker, stationed at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, identified himself as a "big baseball fan" and said he followed Johnson's career when he was a child.
"I like when people come out here and do stuff like this for all the troops out here overseas who don't really get to go home very often," said Walker. "They're showing that they actually care about us."
That sense of giving back, Johnson said, is "everything."
"When I was playing, it was pretty much baseball all the time, so baseball has kind of taken a back seat now," said Johnson. "Coming and doing these visits is important to me, and gratifying. I'm hoping that I can bring a smile and … tell them how much they mean."
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