Baseball great Randy Johnson draws big crowds at USO tour in Germany
By DAN STOUTAMIRE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 28, 2017
WIESBADEN, Germany — Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson proved his continuing drawing power Wednesday as he wrapped up a five-day USO tour of U.S. bases in Germany.
Hundreds of fans turned out at the Wiesbaden exchange store to get autographs from the pitcher, more than seven years after his retirement.
“I’ve been doing this since 2009, so I’ve been to an array of places, whether it’s Kandahar (Afghanistan) or Iraq or Kuwait or Djibouti,” Johnson said. “And I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to go there and visit the military, because I get to see what they do.”
Arriving in Germany on Sunday, Johnson also made visits to bases in Ansbach, Ramstein and Spangdahlem.
In Wiesbaden, the line for autographs and photos ran well outside the main exchange’s front lobby, nearly reaching the parking lot. Johnson signed autographs and posed for pictures for more than an hour.
Left-hander Johnson, nicknamed the “Big Unit” because of his intimidating height and his dominating fastball, played for more than 20 years in the major leagues, racking up 4,875 strikeouts, 303 wins and a 3.29 earned-run average.
He was a 10-time All-Star and a five-time winner of the Cy Young Award, which is given to the top pitcher in each league every season. He helped lead the Arizona Diamondbacks to their first-ever World Series win in 2001.
He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015 by a nearly unanimous vote.
Staff Sgt. Reyder Rivera, an aviation operations noncommissioned officer with U.S. Army Europe, was first in line at the Wiesbaden exchange. He waited more than two hours with his wife, Julissa, to have his Seattle Mariners jersey signed by the baseball great.
“It’s one of the best experiences ever,” said Rivera, a longtime Mariners and Randy Johnson fan.
The pitcher comes from a family with a rich tradition of military service. Johnson said his father served during World War II, and two of his wife’s brothers served in Vietnam. Between 1973 and 1977, his older brother served in Germany at the now-defunct Rhein-Main Air Base.
But that tradition isn’t the reason Johnson routinely tours with the USO, he said.
“That’s not why I do it. I do it because it’s the least I can do,” he said.
He recalled visiting the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, both this week and five years ago.
“Saying thank you to them doesn’t seem like enough considering what they do for us,” Johnson said. “So I think it’s a very small price for me to pay to come over here for a few days and shake hands and smile and joke with them a little bit.”