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Newz Forum: BASEBALL: Johnson arrives at Yankees camp, cracks 'em up

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posted on Feb, 17 2005 @ 05:23 PM
TAMPA, Fla. -- Randy Johnson fit in quite nicely on his first day at spring training with the New York Yankees. The Big Unit's head just made it under the ceiling of the dugout and narrowly avoided banging into the clock that hangs over the clubhouse entrance.

After getting lost en route to Legends Field, he met many of his new teammates and gave an introductory news conference Wednesday, cracking one-liners with the ease of a Henny Youngman.

What does he try to prove at spring training?

"That I don't need a walker."

His opinion on steroids?

"I definitely know nutrition is a big part of staying healthy and being successful but, obviously, it's something that I guess kind of goes beyond the normal things at GNC."

His thoughts on former Arizona teammate Curt Schilling, who could pitch against him when the Yankees play Boston in the major league season opener on April 3?

"I'm glad to see that I'm quickening up his rehab program because I see that he's pretty excited about opening day. I'm pretty excited about that root canal I've got next week, too."

And about his size?

"I haven't shrunk. I'm still 6-foot-10 and I weigh about 233 pounds. It's a good fighting weight."

When he arrived in New York last month for his physical, he got into a sidewalk confrontation with a television cameraman tailing him, then snarled and shouted, earning front-page headlines. Johnson started off his news conference the following day with an apology.

After walking into the clubhouse Wednesday, he joked that he didn't mind the two dozen or so reporters, saying there were no cameramen around.

At his news conference, he spoke softly as he delivered the Big Schtick.

"I don't think I'm mean," Johnson said. "I think I'm pretty funny at times. As you've seen, I've got a lighter side of me."

Johnson knows that he's viewed differently than any other player, and not just because most everyone else is looking up. Whenever he has pitched, he said it has been a "Samson and Goliath" story, mixing the titles.

"I'm just doing it on a bigger stage now," he said.

In his previous major-league stops in Montreal, Seattle, Houston and Arizona, Johnson refined his routine, often able to avoid prying questions. He said several times that he would have to adjust that slightly in New York, where facing pregame inquisitions is just another part of the job.

There will be other variations. Three pairs of his shoes by his locker were marked "51," even though he's switching to 41 with the Yankees because Bernie Williams has his old number. There are new catchers to throw to -- the first people he greeted in the clubhouse were Jorge Posada and John Flaherty. And he said he didn't want to disappoint fans who pay $15 for tickets -- $75 below the price of the best box seats.

He said all the correct things, marveling that he was on the same team as half the lineup he faced in the All-Star Game last summer -- when the first three batters he pitched to were Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Derek Jeter.

Johnson sounded like a George Steinbrenner clone as he explained the task ahead.

"Anything less than winning a World Series isn't acceptable," he said. "When I go to spring training with any other team, it's extreme optimism that we're going to do well. It's changed. You come here, anything less than getting to the World series and winning it would be considered a failing."

New York, which hasn't won the World Series since 2000, acquired him from Arizona and boosted its payroll to about $200 million because Steinbrenner demands title No. 27.

"Those are pretty lofty expectations, whether you have a $300 million payroll, because everybody has to stay healthy, everybody has to play well, you have to have some things go your way," Johnson said.

Jeter called him "as dominating as any pitcher now or ever" but, as usual, expressed caution.

"You need contributions from everyone," he said. "Randy doesn't pitch 162 games. He can only go out there a few times."

Given Johnson's huge size, huge accomplishments and huge salary, fans' expectations will be, well, huge. He doesn't want to hear about his $16 million salary.

"I already know that I'm overpaid," he said.

The formalities over, Johnson will start pitching with a bullpen session Thursday, 45 days ahead of that game against Boston and perhaps Schilling, who helped Boston beat the Yankees in the AL Championship Series and defeat St. Louis in the World Series.

Johnson says he has a good relationship with Schilling, still recovering from ankle surgery but hopeful of pitching the opener.

"I'd say our wives are probably better friends, they socialize quite a bit," Johnson said. "I talked to him a few times this offseason. I know that he's rehabbing and getting prepared. I'm sure he's excited."

He's not focused on facing Schilling. That's because his teammate-turned-rival won't be at the plate.

"If we were in the National League (and) I knew he was going to be batting," Johnson said, "I know he's got a lot of holes."




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