For the players not involved in the game, the All-Star break is a great chance to spend a few days with the family. The Diamondbacks star pitcher Randy Johnson is no exception and I spoke to him by phone from his Orlando hotel. "I’m staying at the Comfort Inn" he said "It’s a little more expensive than I would have liked but it’s a great treat for the kids." Nobody who knows the world of baseball will be surprised by his choice of lodging, he even has a clause in his contract that allows him to select and pay for his own room when the Arizona outfit are on the road. Manager Bob Melvin is on the record as saying that the rest of the team are both amused and bemused by Randy’s choices of where to stay. "More often than not he’s in some cheap airport motel, but that’s what he likes and if it keeps him happy then I’m happy too."
As I chat to Randy I can’t help hearing the sound of children laughing in the background (he and his Chinese born wife Mai Lui have 7 natural children and 5 that they have adopted from Eritrea) and I ask him how the family are enjoying Orlando. "It’s great" he tells me "although the children are a little disappointed that they’re not allowed to go to the theme parks, but the prices are just way too high." His legendary frugality almost certainly stems from his upbringing in rural Wisconsin where he was one of 9 brothers that his parents struggled to feed (his father repaired antique wooden laundry mangles), but one further legacy of that childhood is his staunch vegetarianism. "One Christmas we were so poor that we had to eat Bessie, the family dog" he tells me (Randy’s mother Brandy has vehemently denied this story stating that Bessie was in fact killed in a freak boating accident and that she had "never cooked a dog in her life").
People in Arizona are already familiar with Randy’s efforts on behalf of our dumb friends, but he is now hoping to spread the word to a much larger audience. "I’m organizing a series of concerts that will be transmitted around the world next January" he tells me "It will be called ‘Live Ate’ and I’m confident that it will be the greatest musical spectacle that the world has ever seen, Donovan has already signed up, and two of the Pussycat Dolls are very interested.The basic message will be that killing animals is both a crime and a sin against nature."
It’s at this point that I tentatively raise the incident in 2001 when one of his pitches struck and mortally wounded a passing dove. There is a long silence down the line before he finally speaks "I live with that incident everyday" he weeps "I have been through and am still undergoing an intense course of counseling in order for me to redeem myself and to come to terms with my grief." (As a sideline I should add that some animal liberation parties called for Randy to stop pitching following the incident,others suggested that he should revert to the knuckle ball to "at least give the birds a chance".) He refuses to discuss the matter further but he has written several articles in which he alleges that the bird had in fact been trained by a meat packing company in Long Island in an attempt to discredit him.
Before I have the chance to ask any further questions I can hear Mai Lui shouting in the background and Randy tells me that he has to go "We are going to walk the kids past Sea World" he says "sometimes you can see the spray splash up from outside the gates."
I say my goodbyes and am left to wonder if this big freak of nature is happy with his life, in the end I guess that the best that he can say is that he is searching for happiness and that, in itself, can often be enough.