NEWS

Growing up in Tyrone, Ga., football wasn't Calvin Johnson's first sport

Posted May 17, 2012

Growing up in Tyrone, Ga., football wasn't Calvin Johnson's first sport.

"I started playing football in seventh grade," he said. "My mom wouldn't let me play. I always wanted to play, but she wouldn't let me when I was little. She was afraid I'd get hurt."

Baseball, on the other hand, was something he began playing at a much younger age.

"I've played baseball ever since I was five or six," he said.

Whether it was because he started young or because he just loved the game, Johnson was an avid baseball fan as a kid.

"I know more baseball history than I know football history," he said. "I've always been a Ken Griffey fan.

"I've just always been a baseball fan."

Born in 1985, Johnson was just the right age to begin following his hometown Atlanta Braves who went from "worst to first" in 1991 before going on to win 14-straight division titles.

When asked to name his favorite player, Johnson had a tough time choosing just one, but finally settled on Fred McGriff, the Braves' first baseman during that decade.

"McGriff was my dude," he said. "He had long arms and used to have his own baseball camp – I remember all of that."

Johnson also remembers the ninth-inning, two-out Sid Bream slide into home that gave the Braves the pennant over the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1992.

Fittingly enough, it will be Pittsburgh playing at Comerica Park against the Detroit Tigers Friday night, where Johnson has been invited to take batting practice and then throw out the first pitch.

"Me and the fellas get to go to the game," said Johnson of his fellow wide receivers. "We'll have a good time. I get to hit batting practice. We get to meet the team, that'll be fun."

Johnson, who also threw out the first pitch at Comerica Park the day after he was drafted in 2007 (pictured above), is the second Detroit Lion to do so in the last month.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford had the same honor April 22 against the Texas Rangers.

At that game, Stafford – a pitcher in high school – wanted to make sure he impressed with his pitch. He (naturally) did.

Johnson, also a pitcher, says he's not nervous at all.

"I used to pitch, I can get it across the plate," he said. "My best pitches were slider and cut fastball – cut fastball was my best."

His primary position wasn't throwing, however. It was – not surprisingly – catching.

"My primary position was centerfield," he said.

Despite his love of baseball, Johnson's overwhelming talent ultimately swayed in the direction of the gridiron and Lions fans are enjoying the way that story is playing itself out in Detroit.

But on Friday, Johnson will instead get to enjoy the diamond and swinging for the fences.

"I love hitting home runs," he said.

Those in attendance for Friday's batting practice will get to see if Johnson still has the ability to knock one or two out of the ballpark.

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