1. BIG UNIT, BIG SHOW

1/12

Photographers working the pit for Soundgarden's comeback set at the recent Lollapalooza festival in Chicago were joined by a very special, if unexpected guest: Baseball legend Randy Johnson, aka "the Big Unit," a veteran of 22 seasons in the big leagues, with 302 career victories, five Cy Young Awards as the game's best pitcher, and a World Series ring with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001.

Soundgarden, old pals of Johnson's from his days pitching for the Seattle Mariners in the late-'80s and '90s, invited the 6'10" hurler to hang out with them at Lollapalooza, and Johnson brought along his camera gear to document the band's big night.

Here, Johnson shares his favorite shots from the gig, and tells SPIN.com about how he met Soundgarden—SPIN's current cover stars—back in 1989 and ended up in their Lolla entourage this year.

Interview by Peter Gaston

2. BIG UNIT, BIG SHOW

2/12

Photographers working the pit for Soundgarden's comeback set at the recent Lollapalooza festival in Chicago were joined by a very special, if unexpected guest: Baseball legend Randy Johnson, aka "the Big Unit," a veteran of 22 seasons in the big leagues, with 302 career victories, five Cy Young Awards as the game's best pitcher, and a World Series ring with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001.

Soundgarden, old pals of Johnson's from his days pitching for the Seattle Mariners in the late-'80s and '90s, invited the 6'10" hurler to hang out with them at Lollapalooza, and Johnson brought along his camera gear to document the band's big night.

Here, Johnson shares his favorite shots from the gig, and tells SPIN.com about how he met Soundgarden—SPIN's current cover stars—back in 1989 and ended up in their Lolla entourage this year.

Interview by Peter Gaston

3. BACK IN 1989...

3/12

... Randy Johnson got traded from the Montreal Expos to the Seattle Mariners, right around the time the Emerald City was giving birth to some of the '90s biggest bands, including Soundgarden.

"I listened to all types of music, and obviously when I got to Seattle I was very much aware of the music scene there," Johnson recalls. "And Kim [Thayil, Soundgarden's guitarist, pictured above] is a very familiar face with the black beard. I saw him on the big screen in the KingDome where we were playing a baseball game that night, so I figured he must be a baseball fan."

4. "MY NAME'S RANDY JOHNSON"

4/12

"I made my way to a Soundgarden concert that year while the baseball season was still going. And I I met their manager at the time, whoever that was, and I just explained who I was," Johnson says.

"'My name's Randy Johnson and I play for the Seattle Mariners. I saw Kim Thayil on the Jumbotron and I'd like to invite him to come down to the ballpark and take some batting practice if he wants.'"

"I left my number, and within a couple of days he got back to me and I arranged him and, actually he brought Ben Shepherd, the bass player, down with him to the dome, and they took batting practice and had a good time."

5. ROCK N' JOCK

5/12

While Johnson would later meet his wife and start a family in Seattle, he was a single fella at the time, so he forged a friendship with Thayil, and the two painted the town.

"We became friends," says Johnson, "and he'd take me to a lot of clubs, introduce me to a lot of different bands, and we'd drink and shoot pool and have a good time."

"It just enjoyed hanging out with them, drinking a beer, and watching them do their thing, much like I've had Kim and a couple of the other guys come to watch me pitch. Two entirely different venues and different fans. Just a whole different setting. But I can appreciate what they do—they're really good at what they do—and I think that I've been okay myself at what I do. I think it's just a great trade off."

6. AN ENDURING FRIENDSHIP

6/12

Even after Soundgarden broke up in 1997, and Johnson was traded to Houston in 1998, the pitcher and the axeman remained pals.

"The band went through a very long down period, but being friends, I still stayed in touch with Kim quite a bit," says Johnson. "We talked baseball. He was very supportive of my career and, being a baseball fan, we had a lot to talk about, and me being a music fan, we had a lot to talk about. I guess he was in a mini-retirement before I was, so we talked about that."

7. REUNITED

7/12

After retiring from baseball in 2009, just after notching his 300th career win as a pitcher—a milestone only 23 other players have achieved—Johnson returned to Seattle at the start of the 2010 season to be honored by his former team. It just so happened that Soundgarden was about to end their retirement at the exact same time.

"Kim had asked me to come down to a studio where they were rehearsing," says Johnson. "And this was several days before they did that unannounced first show of theirs at the Showbox in Seattle. Unfortunately, the day before they played that show, I had to leave to go to Japan, so I wasn't able to make it, but I watched them rehearse one night in Seattle and got caught up with all them, told them all good luck."

8. ON TO LOLLAPALOOZA

8/12

"Kim told me shortly after that visit that they were going to be doing Lollapalooza and headlining, and I told him that I'd like to come," Johnson says. "My schedule worked out great—I flew from Baltimore to Chicago the morning of the Lollapalooza show, hooked up with Kim and his girlfriend, put my suitcase down, and drove over to the venue with those guys and hung out, said hi to a lot of people, and then took pictures."

9. SPOTTED IN THE PITS

9/12

"It's kind of hard to not get recognized when you're 6'10"," Johnson laughs. "I did get recognized. Obviously, I don't want to take away from the concert going on but I was in the photo pit, took some pictures there, on the side of the stage, back stage, and it was just a great experience. They're my friends. I've known them for almost 20 years. And it was an opportunity to do something I enjoy, and then have them utilize the pictures through this article."

10. A LONGTIME ROCK FAN

10/12

While his friendship with Soundgarden afforded him the chance to chronicle the band's historic show, Johnson is a big time rock'n'roll fan, in general, from his days as a young pitching phenom through today. From wearing band T-shirts under his jersey—emblazoned with band names like Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Rush, and Slayer—to travelling abroad to see gigs (like Led Zeppelin's London reunion show in 2008), Johnson does love the rock.

"I enjoyed music but didn't have the niche to play guitar or drums, but I had the niche to throw a fastball, you know what I mean?" he says.

11. WHAT DID THE BAND THINK?

11/12

Johnson was stoked to share his photos with the band, after Lollapalooza. "Everybody in the Soundgarden camp has liked them," Johnson says. "I sent them to Kim, and he sent them to [drummer] Matt [Cameron] and [bassist] Ben [Shepherd]. And they all liked the shots. I think it was maybe something more than what they expected, which is a compliment to me."

Cameron might even use some of the shots for an upcoming drum endorsement, Johnson said.

12. ADVICE FROM THE BIG UNIT

12/12

While he doesn't plan to turn this hobby into a career, Johnson did offer some advice for SPIN's just-formed softball team: "Practice, practice, practice."

Now if we can just get him to accept our offer to join the squad...