Randy Johnson, Big Man in Seattle

Mister Big

Randy Johnson.

Just the mention of his name elicits a collection of defeated, almost fearful responses from major league hitters.

Some shake their head and laugh nervously. Others ponder their fate for a moment…then shrug their shoulders in resignation. Still others take a deep breath and slowly exhale as if they’ve narrowly escaped death.

Remember the 1993 All-Star Game? The always colorful, left-handed hitting John Kruk stepped in to face Johnson. The 6-foot-10 inch southpaw promptly sailed a fastball over the first baseman’s head. That’s all Kruk needed. He was finished.

He was transformed into a wide-eyed little leaguer batting for the first time as he bailed out against Johnson’s next two offerings. One feeble swing later — Kruk K’d.

“It’s tough to hit when you’re dead,” said the now-retired Kruk in a post game interview after his brush with fate. “If he was going to hit me, he was going to have to hit a moving target. It would be embarrassing to die on national TV.”

Imagine stepping into the box just 60 feet, 6 inches from the game’s hardest-throwing, most intimidating hurler. Facing the long, lanky, lean, and sometimes loose lefty isn’t exactly a walk in a roadside park — it’s more like a night-time stroll through Central Park.

“He’s a very intimidating person,” says Brewers slugger Dave Nilsson after a long sigh. “When you step in the box against him, you know you have to be at your best. Everything really has to come together for you to be successful against him.”

That rarely happens. Not just in Nilsson’s case, but for the entire league.

No matter what statistical formula is used to calculate effectiveness, Johnson is simply the best pitcher in the American League:

Wins: Over the last three seasons nobody in the American League has won more. Johnson has 50 wins.

Earned Run Average: Randy’s three-year ERA is 2.97, tops in the American League.

Strikeouts: Nobody in the American League even comes close. He’s racked up an unbelievable 806 K’s in three years! Dominant? California starter Chuck Finley is second with 530 strikeouts in the same time frame.

In this decade, no pitcher in either league has sent more men dragging their lumber back to the dugout as often as Johnson. He has rung up 1,469 batters — leaving a healthy distance between Johnson and second place strikeout artist David Cone with 1,249 K’s.

Johnson is the first pitcher in history to post five consecutive seasons averaging 10-plus K’s per 9 innings.

But statistics don’t tell the complete story of his dominance. The respect Johnson has from his competitors fills in the details. They voted him as the pitcher with the “best fastball” and “best slider” in the game today, according to a Baseball America poll.

“He’s got a great slider, and his fast ball just seems to explode,” says Paul Sorrento, Johnson’s first-year teammate and former Cleveland Indian. “There are some other hard throwers in the league, but none of them compare to Randy. It’s not even close!”

Why is the 32-year-old southpaw so dominant?

Yes, he has awe-inspiring stuff. And yes, he has a warrior-like competitive spirit. But combine those things with the third and most important aspect of his life, and you’ve found the secret to his success — Randy Johnson is a follower of Jesus Christ.

“About three years ago, I had a traumatic experience in my life — my dad passed away,” explains Randy with a photograph of his father atop his locker. “I was on the brink of becoming a Christian anyway, but when my dad passed away I finally made the vow to the Lord that He could have my life, and I would glorify Him on and off the field.

“In the last three years, I have had more heart and more desire, and I feel that’s a direct reflection of my Christian beliefs and lifestyle.”

Glance at the last three years of his career, and who could argue? Johnson’s game has risen to another level. From good to great. From tough to nearly unhittable. From simply a thrower with good stuff to a pitcher with total command of his repertoire.

“He was tough a couple of years ago when he really didn’t have command of his pitches,” explains Sorrento. “Now he’s really got control of the strike zone. It’s scary.”

The improvement in Johnson’s game is no mistake. When Randy made a dramatic change in his life, his game changed too – for the better.

When Randy’s dad died, the big lefty evaluated his life. He knew what was missing and what was needed.

“Sometimes people need to go through a traumatic experience to turn to God,” says Johnson. “I believed in Him, but I didn’t dedicate my life to Him until I had a tragic experience in my life.”

“When you make that commitment to the Lord, you’re gonna have lots of confrontations, and there’ll be lots of tugging. I feel that myself. But there’s only one way to be on this earth, and that’s to be a Christian!”

Johnson, always candid and never shy, speaks about his faith as openly as he talks about his pitching. Ask him question, and get out of the way-Randy’s got plenty to say!

Ask him about the notion that Christian athletes are soft. He replies with passion, “The Christian athlete is misconstrued as being like an ostrich. When things get tough they bury their head in the sand.

“I would confront any fan or professional athlete to say that to me, because that hasn’t been me in the last three years.

“There have been several times in the last three years where I could have been soft and been that ostrich burying my head in the sand because the going got tough. I got through those situations because I believed that the Lord would get me through them, and because I dedicated myself to doing the things I needed to do to be the best. Thats’s one way I can glorify the Lord.”

Johnson’s performance in 1995 was certainly no ostrich act. No other pitcher came close to his accomplishments. Big No. 51 led the league in earned run average (2.48), winning percentage (.900), strikeouts (294), batting average against (.201), and strikeouts per 9 innings pitched (12.35 – A new Major League record).

Randy finished the season with an unbelieveable 18-2 record, just one win short of capturing the pitching Triple Crown (wins, ERA, and K’s). Had he captured that, Johnson would have been he American League’s first Triple Crown winner in 50 years.

The fact that he got only 26 of 28 first place votes for the American League Cy Young Award is a travesty! Not voting for Johnson after the season he had in 1995 would be like putting artificial turf at Wrigley Field. It’s just wrong.

But Johnson doesn’t revel in his amazing success. He knows hitters respect him. He knows he’s good. But he also recognizes that it isn’t all his doing.

“There are a lot of professional athletes who think they are doing it all on their own,” says Randy. “I was one of those athletes at one time. I felt that when I struck out a bunch of guys, that it was solely me doing it-but not anymore.

“The Lord’s given me the ability to go out and do the things that I do. It’s being done by the Lord.”

Johnson has been gifted with a Kingdome full of talent. He’s tall, he throws amazingly hard, he’s smart, and his competitive spirit is second to none.

“He does not like to lose,” says Mariners catcher Dan Wilson. “He is a very competitive person-a real warrior-type!”

Although he doesn’t go to battle with a javelin in his hand, as Wilson’s comment suggests, some hitters would rather stare down a flaming spear than a Johnson fastball.

“As a hitter, you’re hoping to get a couple walks and maybe chink a flare in somewhere and beat him 1-0,” says Sorrento. “It feels good to be on the other side of it now.”

Others aren’t so fortunate. They have to face the slants of Johnson every fifth day, which usually means success for the Mariners. In 1995, the M’s went an amazing 27-3 in games Johnson started. When an irritated nerve in his lower back sidelined the 1995 Cy Young winner for much of the current season, Johnson was already 5-0 and leading the league in strikeouts-again! Before the injury Randy had won 25 of his last 27 decisions, and he was 34-5 in his last 52 starts.

Although he has missed several “fifth days” this season, the California native takes great pleasure in taking the hill and representing the Lord.

“The greatest feeling I get playing baseball right now is knowing that I can go out every fifth day and be a warrior for the Lord,” says Randy. “I can go out behind the mound and crouch down and say my prayer and then be a very aggressive, warrior-like pitcher, glorifying Him in that sense.

“Knowing that I can go among 50,000 fans and pray, and people take notice of that-it’s very gratifying to me.”

Randy’s relationship with God isn’t something he uses as a showpiece or as a good-luck charm. His faith in Jesus Christ is authentic. And more than being just a warrior-like pitcher, Randy Johnson is a prayer warrior.

He prays before, during and after games. He enjoys close communication with God through prayer.

“I do a lot of praying. I do a lot of talking to the Lord. It’s something I really enjoy,” says Johnson. “When people think I’m talking to myself-I’m doing a lot of praying. So I’m in constant contact with Him.”

The 32-year old pitcher is very honest about his relationship with Jesus Christ. He knew about Jesus for years. But he didn’t live for Him. Today, Randy knows the Lord in a very personal way. He knows the Lord in a way that many people don’t, but in a way that he would like them to.

“I’m sure a lot of people believe in the Lord, but they’re not committed to Him-they haven’t given their life to Him.”

“I think everybody realizes there is a Lord Jesus Christ. Whether they’re committed to Him or not, it’s gonna be important to them before they die to make that decision. We’re talking eternal life-we’re talking forever.”

Sound like a guy who is timid about the Gospel? Not a chance! Randy makes no more apologies for talking about his faith in Christ and his source of blessing than he does for tucking a fastball under somebody’s chin. Even when normal media types don’t want to hear it, Randy gives the credit for his success to the Lord Jesus Christ.

“I realize a lot of media people shut that out They want to know why you have so much success, but they don’t want to hear the real reason-because the Lord has given you the abilities.”

And the Lord has definitely given Randy Johnson extraordinary abilities. Abilities he has worked hard to develop, hone, and master.

Unlike the thrower who broke into the majors with the Montreal Expos in 1988, Johnson has mastered the slider, the fastball, and the art of intimidation. He is a compete pitcher-in every sense of the word.

His peers’ responses don’t lie.

“You just hope to see the ball out of his hand,” says Oakland A’s infielder Scott Brosius after he smiles, chuckles anxiously, and responds to an inquiry about the Mariners’ ace. “He is the ultimate power pitcher!”

Just mention the name and the players will tell you. Randy Johnson is the big league’s Mister Big.

By Rob Bentz

This story was published in the August 1996 issue of Sports Spectrum magazine. Click here to view the entire issue. 

A look back at Hoosiers star and UCLA head coach Steve Alford

Yawn…yawn. Seemingly just another day at the office for point guard Steve Alford. The smooth 6-foot-2 senior led Indiana University to the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball championship this season, averaging 22 points a game. But his fluid movements on the floor belie the effort and diligence away from the camera that went into his contributions toward the team’s national title.

Alford ended his career as the Hoosiers’ four-time Most Valuable Player. He finished as the number 2 all-time scorer in the Big 10 Conference–a mere deuce behind Michigan’s Mike McGee…

To read our story on Hoosiers star and UCLA head coach Steve Alford from our Volume 1, Number 3 issue, click here.

Closeup — Cyrille Domoraud

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For Cyrille Domoraud, the 2006 World Cup represented both the greatest triumph and most difficult challenge of his career.

In late 2005, Domoraud, then a 34-year-old fullback from Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), captained the Elephants’ national soccer team to its first-ever World Cup berth, a historic event that prompted a temporary ceasefire in the nation’s six-year civil war.

But Domoraud rode the bench the first two games—close losses to Argentina and the Netherlands—before getting a red card in the Elephants’ final game, a win over Serbia and Montenegro.

“It was a blow to feel like my efforts hadn’t been rewarded,” he says. “But that’s part of the job.”

Earlier in his career, Domoraud might have called the whole episode bad juju. As a native Ivorian, Domoraud grew up in a culture steeped in witchcraft. As a young player he used to wear a good luck ring—one of many talismans he owned, some of which he received from his parents—in the hopes of currying spiritual protection and fending off evil spirits. But thanks in part to the faithful witness of his sister, Domoraud became a Christian in 1999 and eschewed his superstitious upbringing.

By then, his impressive playing career was in full swing. After starting with several French clubs from 1992 to 1999, he spent a season with Italian Serie A giant Inter Milan in 1999-2000 before playing with teams in France, Spain, Turkey and, finally, his homeland. His last professional season came in 2008 with Africa Sports Abidjan.

Since retiring, he has devoted more time to his Cyrille Domoraud Training Centre in Abidjan, which has produced, among others, Ivorian striker Wilfried Bony of Swansea City (English Premier League). But Domoraud will always be remembered in the Ivory Coast as part of the famed 2006 World Cup team, despite the temporary frustrations that followed.

“I was just delighted to be at the World Cup and thank God for allowing me to be a part of it, for it was He who enabled me to go,” Domoraud says. “It was a miracle—a great moment He gave me in my life and in my career. I would never have thought about becoming a professional football player but for His leading. So rather than ask why the negative things happened, I thank God for the chance to be part of His kingdom and to play in the World Cup.”

By Joshua Cooley

 

 

 

Closeup — Lúcio

Spring 2014_closeup_LucioBrazilian captain Lucimar Ferreira da Silva (or Lucio as he’s known throughout the soccer world) was reminiscing about Brazil’s 2002 World Cup victory, his thoughts went back to the feelings he had when he helped his soccer-crazed country win the world’s most coveted title in sports.

It also caused him to think about the most important part of his life.

“In Brazil, everyone dreams of this,” he says of winning the World Cup. “Since 2002, I have been able to participate in this great desire. We were a great group and it was a very important moment in my life and in my family’s life. Once again, we had the opportunity to thank God for the whole world to see. Without a doubt, this was more important than the title.”

They showed the world their passion for God by taking off their jerseys and revealing shirts underneath that had short statements about Jesus and their love for Him.

In a brief conversation, it wasn’t uncommon to hear Lucio constantly thank God for every aspect of his life—from playing a game for a living, to having a wife, children and appreciating other simplicities of life.

He has played more than 100 international matches for Brazil, including a huge match in June 2009 when he scored the game-winning goal to help Brazil to a 3-2 comeback victory against the United States in the Confederations Cup championship game in South Africa.

“I think that the faith we had in ourselves during the Confederations Cup was fundamental,” he shared. “But above all, we recognized the power of God working in our lives.”

The focus was and is always on God, His mercy, how God has blessed him in so many ways, and how much he needs God despite seemingly having everything.

“I believe that the fact I play for a great club, play on the national team, the fact I have a wife and family who support me, just shows me that I need God all the more,” says Lucio. “Without a doubt, today I can say that God has done things in my life that I never imagined. As a professional, playing on great clubs, (winning) titles, having a wife and children who are healthy and walking in the same path towards Jesus, and understanding what God has done for us, the love He demonstrates for us every day, and His mercy in our weakness and in the fact we are sinners. I believe God shows true love when we fail, and He loves us and takes care of us just the same. I believe this is what brings us closer to Him each and every day.”

By Brett Honeycutt

Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor of Sports Spectrum magazine.

 

 

Feature story — When Soccer Becomes An Avenue

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To Japanese footballer Jun Marques Davidson, religion always seemed like far too complicated of a thing. The rules. The regulations. The structure.

Raised in Tokyo, Japan—a country where only 1 percent of its citizens are considered to be practicing Christians—Davidson was like much of the population. He had little interest in Christianity, even though his mother was a Christian.

Instead, he had his sights set on one thing: soccer. There were signs that he could be something special early in life, and at 15 years old he left Japan to play soccer at an international school in England. Success, money, and fame became his primary drive in life. Attaining superstar status in the soccer sphere became his goal.

But it was in England, while he was alone in a foreign country, barely able to communicate, hardly knowing anyone, that he realized there may be more to life than soccer.

“It was tough to be alone in a foreign country,” Davidson said. “But it was there that I began to understand my need for God. I started attending church on my own and learned more about what it meant to be a Christian. I committed my life to Him and found a peace and confidence I had not felt before. My purpose for going to England had been for soccer, but His purpose was to shape me for my future.”

After England, Davidson and his family moved to California to be together while he played soccer in high school. He was surrounded by other strong Christians on the team, as if God was bringing him to maturation after the revival he had in England. “Again God was shaping me by providing Christian fellowship and encouragement,” Davidson says.

Following high school, Davidson moved back to Japan to play professional soccer. His homecoming was like a clash of two worlds. When he left Japan four years prior, his heart and mind were in a completely different state. He was selfishly driven, determined to make a splash on the soccer scene to attain both money and fame. When he returned four years later, he was becoming more of a selfless person, and he wanted to use soccer as an avenue to impact others for the Gospel in a country that had hardly heard of Jesus Christ.

“I think God created me as a soccer player to do something greater, to serve God,” Davidson told Risen Magazine. “There are not many Christians in Japan, so it is very hard to follow and study and have the solid faith in Christ.

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“I believe God took me to England and to California to put me in a situation and environment where I saw a lot of Christians and people with great faith. And so that helped me inside as a person to grow and learn more about God.”

His return to Japan made him realize how much he had changed, how much work God had done in him, and how much God wanted to do something through him to impact others.

“Since giving my life to God, my perspective had changed,” Davidson says. “I began to think about how I could use my role to share the gospel. God was showing me that my career was less about me and all about Him.”

Since moving back to Japan, the defensive-minded midfielder’s performance has been steady. He spent his first three seasons in the second division of Japan’s J. League and helped his team earn a promotion to Japan’s first division in 2004. His next six seasons were spent in J. League Division I and followed by two seasons in lower divisions including a stint with the Carolina RailHawks in the States. He spent all of 2012 and 2013 playing for the Vancouver Whitecaps in Major League Soccer. He was awarded the Whitecaps FC’s “Jock MacDonald Unsung Hero Award” in 2012 for his consistent presence on the pitch.

“Serving God through sport is important to me,” Davidson says. “I try to share the Gospel, serve others, and be an example. It’s not always easy when the competition gets tough, but even then I seek forgiveness and pray God will use me. My career is in His hands and I seek to follow Him wherever that may lead me, even if and when it doesn’t involve soccer—for my purpose is to serve Him.”

In the offseason, Davidson does missionary work through a sports ministry group called Ambassadors in Sport, and at 31 years old, his heart and mind are in a much different place than they were 15 years ago. His life is no longer his own; it belongs to God. Soccer is no longer his own; it also belongs to God. And his surrender to a much better Author of his story has led to both purpose and peace.

Joseph of the Old Testament was a normal kid who God shaped into a great man,” Davidson says. “Even when his brothers sold him into slavery and his future looked grave, Joseph sought to live for his God. Then, when he was blessed with great power and influence, he used his role to help others and do God’s work.”

By Stephen Copeland

Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum.

 

Feature story — A Gracious Peace

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With four knee injuries in his career, it would be understandable if Marcos Senna was burned out, discouraged or disappointed with soccer.

But it’s quite the opposite for the Spanish soccer star.

“I have had four knee injuries, but with God’s help, I think I have coped with them well, and even experienced joy in the midst of them,” he shares. “I don’t know of another player with similar injuries who has been able to continue playing at the same level as I have. I give thanks, honor, and glory to God for the strength He has given me.”

“I am at peace. I know God has a purpose in our lives. If I am injured, it is for a reason that I am injured and I understand that I will get better in time. I understand that God…will keep looking after me. And for that reason I am very calm.”

Senna, who was born into poverty in Brazil and began playing soccer in the streets at age 6, became a Spanish citizen in 2006 after Luis Aragonés, Senna’s Villarreal CF coach, asked him to play for the Spanish national team.

“I was not going to give up my nationality by birth—Brazilian,” says Senna. “At that time, I thought it was the best move and a privilege to have dual nationality and the opportunity to play for Spain, one of the best teams in the world. The truth is that it has changed my life. It has been extraordinary.”

Senna, who played in two World Cups, helped Spain win the 2008 Euro Cup, beating Germany 1-0 for its first Euro title since 1964. Several publications named Senna player of the tournament after he helped Spain become the first team to go unbeaten in the Euro Cup since Germany in 1996.

From November 2006 until June 2009, he also helped Spain win or tie 35 consecutive matches, tying the mark held by Brazil, and helped Spain win a record 15 straight games during that span while also helping Spain to No. 1 in the World Rankings for the first time in the nation’s history. The streak ended in the Confederations Cup semifinal with a 2-0 upset loss to the United States.

“Winning the European Championship in 2008 was a highlight of my career and a wonderful celebration,” he says. “We eventually won on penalties. I knew that I would be one of the penalty-takers. We practiced penalties the day before, but on game-day we had played 90 minutes plus 30 minutes in extra time. I was exhausted and had cramps everywhere. Yet, when the time came, I was calm and felt God’s Spirit come on me, giving me peace and clarity. With His help, I was able to shoot confidently, score, and help Spain to victory. I knew God was in charge and had a plan for me to honor Him with this accomplishment.

“On the day of the final, I was completely focused on the match. It was a great day, especially with all of Spain sharing in the celebration. When we won, it was a time of great joy for all the players. Our lives will never be the same because of being part of winning the Championship. More importantly, my life has never been the same because of my relationship with Jesus.”

That relationship with Jesus began during a short stint with São Caetano in Brazil in 2002, and it has made all the difference in his life.

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“They invited me to a meeting and I went,” Senna recalls. “At that stage I did not know much about the Bible. I had been to church with my mother, but as I grew up I stopped going for some reason. I was not baptized or anything, but I knew some things from my mother and grandmother…I was 25 years old—nearly 26—and they invited me to the meeting. I liked it and I kept on going. Then eight months after I became a Christian, Villarreal signed me and I joined a church in Villarreal where I was baptized.”

Senna said that fame, money and other material things aren’t enough to satisfy anyone.

“If you are worried about anything, I do not think that money is the answer,” Senna says. “But God’s Spirit is above all things. God can give you happiness, peace and joy. Just talking about it makes me smile. This has made me very happy and changed my life in every way. It is the best decision that anyone can make in their lives.”

“Now I am truly at peace because I am certain God has a purpose for my life. If I am injured, it is for a reason. God is looking after me, and because of that, I am able to be calm and confident, and experience great joy.”

By Brett Honeycutt

Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor of Sports Spectrum magazine.

 

Feature story – Breath of Life

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Growing up in a family split in their religious beliefs, Alexander Samedov decided he would live his life in his own way and on his own terms.

Until trouble came and he was left searching for answers.

Samedov, who has represented Russia internationally on the U-21 and senior soccer national teams and has also played on several top Russian club teams, started having trouble in his soccer career and in his life. That’s when the questions started, first in his mind and then verbally.

“My father is a Muslim. He’s Azerbaijani. My mom is (Russian) Orthodox; she’s (ethnically) Russian. Going back to the very beginning, I grew up between two camps, so to speak,” Samedov shared in a television interview. “My father always told me that I was a Muslim. My mom didn’t agree with that.  I didn’t really go in either direction. I lived my life in my own way. But a time came when I began to have problems in my career, in my life. I had already reached the age to be thinking about those things. And then I met my current wife, Yulia. She was a believer; she went to church. Seeing my problems, she simply said to me, ‘Sasha, such and such…’ I came to church once, twice, and I understood.  My life began to change.”

Though Samedov admitted that “reading wasn’t the most important thing” for him growing up because he went to sports school and he “paid more attention to sports” than academics, he has loved reading the Bible since becoming a Christian.

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Though Samedov admitted not reading much while growing up, he has loved reading the Bible since becoming a Christian.

“I didn’t read much at all. I hardly had any free time,” Samedov says. “Because I went to a sports school, it didn’t really work out for me to combine academics and sports. I paid more attention to sports, and reading wasn’t the most important thing for me.”

But reading the Bible has been different. A welcome change from the arduous reading of lifeless words from the pages of a school textbook or any book for that matter.

“I don’t look at reading the Bible like reading other books, because the Bible is something spiritual; it’s about faith,” he says. “The Bible teaches us. It provides direction for our lives.”

Part of that direction has guided him in his career.

Samedov debuted with Spartak Moscow when he was 16 years old. Five years later he moved to Lokomotiv Moscow for four years before joining FC Moscow for two seasons. After succeeding there, he made a jump to a bigger club, Dynamo Moscow, for three seasons while also making his first senior national team appearance in October of 2011 in a victory against Slovakia during a Euro 2012 qualifier match.

That success landed him back at Lokomotiv the following season when he began excelling even more and became a regular starter and a fan favorite.

The questions he had about life had been answered, and the way he handled success and failure had now changed.

He looked to God, who spoke to him and guided him as Samedov read the Bible.

God has used Samedov’s wife to show him the right path.

“It worked out that way,” he says. Through her, I made it.”

By Brett Honeycutt

Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor of Sports Spectrum magazine.

 

Uncommon Challenge