PEORIA – Randy Johnson’s 6-foot-10-inch frame dwarfs most others, but for once, the Big Unit was dwarfed – by his own likeness.
Students at Peoria High School painted an 18-by-14-foot mural on the wall outside their art building, honoring the 2015 Hall of Fame selection. Thursday, Johnson swung by to check himself out and talk with the students.
“I’m very pleased and kind of blown away by how advanced you guys are,” the former Arizona Diamondbacks lefty said. “Thank you and you guys did a fabulous job.”
Johnson spoke in the classroom with 25 art students who worked on the project and fielded questions from the teens.
The 2001 World Series MVP related his own experiences with photography in high school and how much it has become his passion since using his first pinhole camera in an art class similar to their own.
“I enjoy photography, you guys enjoy art – it’s all the same,” the five-time Cy Young winner said. “I was learning just like you guys are learning and based on what I see here, what you guys have done, you should be really proud.”
After spending about 20 minutes with the students, the former fireballer, now an executive adviser for the Diamondbacks, went outside with the them to sign the mural and take photos with the class.
He reminded them there is always more to learn – in baseball, art and life – and encouraged an active engagement in the learning process.
The 10-time All-Star’s presence created a buzz around the campus and students soon realized the draw of their work as media, district staff and teachers gathered.
“I don’t think they really understood that this is a big deal, Randy is coming,” said Matthew Glover, the art teacher who led the project. “Now they know. That’s the best part.”
The teacher’s impact wasn’t lost on Johnson, who reminded students how lucky they are to have someone who can accelerate their learning.
“You’re all blessed with having the ability to draw and having a teacher who can get you to the next level. Don’t ever feel like you can’t get any better because you can,” Johnson said.
Known for his intimidating presence as a pitcher, Johnson won over the students with his engaging personality. While he spoke, Peoria High students were as quiet as New York Yankee fans in 2001.
When no one eagerly volunteered to ask Johnson a question, he lightened the mood. “I don’t bite,” he said.