Friday was a pretty good day for the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Not only did Justin Verlander come within two outs of his third career no-hitter in a 6-0 shutout of the Pittsburgh Pirates, but Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson provided some interesting fireworks for the home crowd before the game even started.
Johnson warms up with a couple hacks, the third swing provides a blooper not unlike the Josh Harrison single that ended Verlander's potential gem, and then ... wham! Swing No. 5 heads out to the bullpen.
Not surprisingly, Johnson has been a baseball guy for a long time. The former center fielder grew up in Tyrone, Ga., with a love for the game and didn't play football for the first time until the seventh grade. "My mom wouldn't let me play," Johnson told the Lions' official website just one day before his BP dinger. "I always wanted to play, but she wouldn't let me when I was little. She was afraid I'd get hurt."
Baseball was something Johnson did from a much earlier age. "I know more baseball history than I know football history," he said. "I've always been a Ken Griffey fan ... [Fred] McGriff was my dude. He had long arms and used to have his own baseball camp — I remember all of that."
Johnson was contacted by the Tigers and asked to throw out the first pitch of the Pirates game, with the added perk that he could grab a bat as well. He did the same in 2007, and he's the second Lions player to do so this season -- quarterback Matthew Stafford (a pitcher in high school) had the honor on April 22.
Johnson remembers pitching as well ("My best pitches were slider and cut fastball — cut fastball was my best"), but he really wanted to knock one out of there.
The man known as "Megatron," quite possibly the best receiver in the game, recently agreed to a huge new contract -- $132 million over eight seasons, with $60 million guaranteed. It's a testament to his ridiculous talent and work ethic that his own coach, Jim Schwartz, has said that Johnson may be underpaid.
"Calvin's one of those guys that, and we've said this about a few guys in our building now, that whatever you pay him is not enough," Schwartz said at the presser announcing the deal.
Of course, he didn't have to pay to get into the park, but if he did, Johnson would have had enough scratch to treat the receiver buddies he took along.
"Me and the fellas get to go to the game. We'll have a good time. We get to meet the team, that'll be fun.
"I love hitting home runs," he said very prophetically, just a few hours before he did just that. He then gave a signed football to manager Jim Leyland, who may have wondered if Johnson was available to hit cleanup.