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Career in pro baseball was 'meant to be'

JASON JOHNSON

Q: After starting the season with the Durham Bulls (Triple A), you were called up to the big club while the team was in Anaheim. What were your thoughts on being thrown in against the AL's best-hitting team, the Texas Rangers, a few days later?

A: It was something else, really. I was pitching pretty well in Durham and obviously thinking about coming up to the big leagues. It was one of those things that you always dreamed about but were shocked to hear. You get excited and nervous at the same time. You know that there are better hitters in the big leagues, but you also know that you have a better defense behind you. It took a while for it to sink in, but now I'm all right.

Q: You were not drafted. Tell us how you got into professional baseball.

A: You could say it was not the norm. I was playing for the Midlands Indians in the Cincinnati summer league right out of high school. On this particular day, it just so happened that a Pirate bird dog scout stopped by. He wasn't there to scout the game or to look for any specific players; he just stopped by. He saw me throw one pitch and then left. He told a scout, who called me and invited me the next morning to a try out at Northern Kentucky University, 15 minutes from my mother's house. I went to the tryout the next day, and they let me throw for 15 minutes. I was only hitting 88 mph or so, but after the 15 minutes they pulled me to the side and made me an offer. I said yes. I was looking to to play pro baseball, but I didn't think it would happen that way. I was planning to go to college and then get drafted from there. I don't know why that guy drove by the park that day, but I guess it's something that was meant to be.

Q: Despite a bargain-basement payroll, Pittsburgh, the team you made your major-league debut with, was very competitive last year. What was that experience like?

A: It was interesting to watch how that thing developed. No one thought we would be that competitive. If you look at it, it was pretty amazing. All these teams go out and pay all this money for superstars, and here was Pittsburgh with a bunch of nobodies. ... But I think we had a sense of pride that we could compete. We didn't get a whole lot of fans, but those who were there were great. It was a good place to be.

Q: You are a Mormon. What should people know about your faith?

A: Everybody is honest. ... We believe in being strong and clean people, both spiritually and physically, and that means we don't drink alcohol and do drugs. People that aren't familiar with the Mormon religion think that polygamy is still present, but that's not true. The church discourages polygamy, but people still think that the church permits it. The other thing is that there are a lot of Mormons in Utah, but it's not like we have taken over the state. It's just that the religion is very prevalent and a lot of the churches are out there. But it's not like Utah is Mormon Inc. or anything like that.

Q: Why do you think divorce rate is so high in the United States ?

A: I think everyone takes marriage too lightly. They look at it and say: "I can get married, and if it doesn't work out, I can always go and get a divorce." That's where the problem lies. There is a sense that it is only a temporary thing, like an escape clause. There is a sense that there is always a way out. But I don't see it that way. I plan to spend the rest of my life with (fiancee Stacey Kidd, whom he will marry in the off-season), so it's not something I take lightly.

_ ROGER MILLS

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