Interview: Troy Johnson

Troy Johnson is, among many other things, the host of Channel 4 San Diego’s Outta Left Field, which airs before each Padres night home game Monday through Saturday. I’ve had the good fortune to appear on this program, whose brain trust has embraced blogging and encouraged those of us who blog to share our thoughts with a wider audience. Recently Troy took time out of his busy schedule to talk with Ducksnorts about his show, the Padres, and the San Diego music scene.

Ducksnorts: Thank you very much for your time, Troy. Prior to your current gig as host of Channel 4 San Diego’s Outta Left Field, you were best known in San Diego for your coverage of the local music scene in the periodical San Diego City Beat and on television’s Fox Rox. How did you come to land a job hosting a baseball pregame show?

Troy Johnson: Oh, hand-buffing Dan Novak‘s dope ride, adept use of a pooper-scooper upon Dennis Morgigno‘s yard–you know, the usual ways. I first met Dennis at a Press Club Awards ceremony in 2004. I was a presenter. The other presenters basically were like a Mount Rushmore of San Diego Media (insert melodramatic cinema score here)–Jack White, Marty Levin, Carol LeBeau, etc.–well dressed, excellently coifed, and with a thousand times the fame and respect in town than myself. I was the token music geek in a checkered thrift store suit-jacket, jeans and a wine stain on the only good shirt I owned. And I guess my approach to presenting awards was a bit different. Some might say “haphazard,” “irreverent” or possibly “amateurishly endearing.”

I just went up there to have a good time. You could feel a simmering feeling of boredom among the people waiting to get their awards, so I wanted to lighten things up. And maybe I did. I dunno. Personally, I had a good time.

Afterwards, Dennis was just a real cool cat. He came up, shook my hand (actually, I believe it was a friendly fisting). He said nice things about what I did on Fox Rox.

Later, we struck up a conversation and he said he wished he was still doing original programming on Channel 4 San Diego, cuz he’d like to work with me on an entertainment show. And I said, “Y’know, don’t count me out if you ever need any help with on-air Padres stuff. I’m a huge Padres geek.” Two weeks later he approached me about hosting this “new, experimental show.” They wanted something out of the box–something that was more Daily Show than ESPN, and to do that they needed someone different than your normal sports broadcaster. They already had the hardcore Padres experts in Mud [Mark Grant], Matt [Vasgersian], Tony [Gwynn], John [Weisbarth] and Flan [Tim Flannery]. They wanted a wildcard, I think–just a frickin fan. I guess they felt I was that, and they offered me the job.

And Fox Rox had been a “new, experimental show” when I started with it. Someone at The Reader said we’d be around less than six months. It’s now four years later and we just won our second Emmy. So without sounding like a buffoon, we did OK.

I flipped–after years of imitating Fred Kendall, Terry Kennedy and then Tony Gwynn in my backyard, it was, hyperbole be damned, a frickin dream.

DS: When the Padres are at home, you guys run a 1-hour live show before each night game Monday through Saturday. What are the biggest challenges you face when doing a live broadcast and how do you deal with them?

TJ: An hour is a long time to fill–and if your mouth makes this stuttering noise that suggests you’re less evolved than the common man, or you say something nonsensical, as 99 percent of humans will do on a frequent basis–I don’t get a second take. Most TV shows have teleprompters–a screen where anchors can read a lot of material. We don’t got squat, yo, simply because of the technical limitations of where we’re shooting it.

It’s all improv. I watch every game, take notes, think of material. I wake up at 8 a.m. on game days and study straight until I get to the field. I cram as much into my little head as possible, and hope that when I verbally puke it back from 5:30-6:30, it makes sense. But there’s a reason I never had to have my wisdom teeth removed. I have a really big mouth.

DS: What is the coolest thing you’ve gotten to do as host of Outta Left Field?

TJ: Meet my heroes, Tony Gwynn and Jerry Coleman. I mean, those are heroes of mine. Unwitting molders of my frail brainpan. I think I remember Jerry’s call of [Steve] Garvey‘s homer [against the Cubs in the 1984 playoffs] better than I remember my first kiss. It’s also been a true learning experience meeting people I respect–Matt, Mark, all the Channel 4 guys, plus Hoffy [Trevor Hoffman], [Bruce] Bochy, etc. But those are just guys I respect. Gwynn and Coleman came into my life when I was still young enough to have heroes. Now I’m way too jaded to have heroes. Although anyone who can find a free parking spot in downtown gets an honorable mention.

DS: Describe your “dream” segment for the show. Who would be your guest(s) and what would you do?

TJ: Dream segment would have to include Fred Kendall, Eric Owens, Bip Roberts, Craig Lefferts, a resuscitated Ray Kroc, the one dude who we took out of a beer league and put on first base. We’d sit around and talk about North Korean politics, Fugazi‘s last album, and how great the San Diego bench players have been this year. I’ve always been a fan of the team’s scrappers–the Chris Gomezes of our little world. Of course, Jerry would be there calling a homer a strikeout, Gwynn would belly laugh in the general vicinity, Dave Campbell would say something grumpy, and Garvey would pose like a bodybuilding politician. And hopefully Luis DeLeon would pop by, because he was a trailblazer in bling.

DS: The Padres sweeping the Dodgers in LA the last weekend of the season to win the NL West in 1996 was a defining moment for me as a fan. When did the lightbulb go off for you, when you realized that the Pads are the only team that matters?

TS: Honestly, I was born with a brown-and-gold lightbulb. Like one day a child looks down and realizes he’s got genitals, and they’ve been there all along. One day I looked out and realized that I was at a Padres game, and I’d been there all along.

But the first day I ever faked sick to get sent home from school was the 1984 playoffs. I was 11 years old, and such a huge fan that I was literally sick that I had to be in school while the Chicago games were on TV. I lasted one period, then went to the nurse and said I swallowed a big eraser on a dare. I was gonna hurl pink chunks unless they got me near a TV quick. They called my mom, who’s no dunce. She knew I had playoff-itis. I mean, we’d had season tickets since I could walk, and it was almost time for the pregame show. She told the school to let me ride my one-speed bike all two miles home (uphill, but no snow). Of course, the Padres lost, and I was so angry and sad you’d think my puppy had just met the business end of a Mack truck. I might have cried. But if you think that’s wimpy, then I definitely didn’t.

In regards to the 1996 Dodgers series. I was at college in Chico, sitting in a crappy bar that I would never remember had it not been for Chris Gwynn. When we won it, my good friend Jeff Pithoud tackled me from across the room. We rolled on the floor in hysterics until we realized that a bunch of big, burly, small-town sports dudes were about to think we were making out. And that woulda been bad.

DS: You’re the skipper. What do you do with Xavier Nady?

TJ: Play him. Every single day. [Dave] Roberts is a spark plug, but drastically less efficient against southpaws. I’d never have Roberts in center with a lefty on the mound. Nady every time, with Roberts available in a late-inning RISP opportunity (in which he’s among the best on the team), or as a late-inning pinch-runner for [Ramon] Hernandez. The day after, Nady spells [Sean] Burroughs at third, cuz that’s where he really should be playing every day eventually, even if he’s not ready quite yet. The next day he spells [Ryan] Klesko.

The day after that he spells [Phil] Nevin. Then he spells [Brian] Giles. Giving those guys–even Giles, who’s amazingly hot–a day off every five days, and to have that power off the bench… I just don’t see any downside. The fact that Nady is nearly leading the team in homers with half the amount of bats that our big boppers have is proof enough. Hard to put a price on three-run homers.

DS: Shifting gears, there have been some great bands to come out of San Diego over the years, from Spirit, to the Beat Farmers, to Pinback. One of my all-time favorites is Heavy Vegetable, which featured Pinback’s Rob Crowe in the mid-’90s. They only put out two CDs, but for my money, Frisbie is about as good as it gets. Who are some of your favorite local acts?

TJ: I own Frisbie. Sold back some poop a major label sent me and bought it at Music Trader. Rob Crowe could hyperventilate into a paper bag and it would sound better than most music out there nowadays. My favorite local band is Black Heart Procession–dark, moody, like Nick Cave meets Pink Floyd with a little Modest Mouse thrown in. The Locust are also one of my favorites. Would never throw on their record unless I wanted to get kicked out of my apartment post-haste, but anyone who does absolutely unbearable noise terrorism, inserts a keyboard solo, and wears paramilitary uniforms that look strangely insectile on stage gets big ups in my book. As uncool as it is, I think Jason Mraz is amazing–the best freestyle improv vocalist I’ve heard in years. Give the kid a wife-beater and a Band-aid and he’d have a Def Jam contract, his own clothing line and energy drink. Then, just to list: Pinback, Gregory Page, RFTC, Drive Like Jehu, Fishwife, Get Back Loretta, After Party, Transfer, Scarlet Symphony, Deep Rooted, Wilderness Survival, The Dragons, Kill Me Tomorrow, Reeve Oliver, Channing Cope, Flying Douglas, Anya Marina, Annie Bethancourt, Japanese Sunday, The Album Leaf, Lady Dottie & The Diamonds, Gilbert Castellanos and Charles McPherson.

DS: Finally, because it has to be asked: Warrant or Winger?

TJ: Neither. Although I secretly envy anyone who buys Aquanet in bulk.

Good to know, Troy. And don’t worry, your secret is safe with us. Thanks again for stopping by, and stay classy.

For more of Troy Johnson, be sure to catch Outta Left Field, before Padres home games on San Diego Channel 4.

12 Responses »

  1. Another great moment in managerial vision, courtesy of Bruce Bochy: “We have been shut down a little too often,” Bochy said. “Hopefully, we can stay away from that.”

    Yeah, Bruce. Hopefully.

  2. Great interview, Geoff. And you didn’t even try to talk your own band onto Fox Rox. Or at least you didn’t transcribe that part of the interview…

    Seriously, good job.

  3. Good read, Geoff.
    Question for all of you who went to the Pizza Feed.
    Did KT mention anything about Nady’s lack of playing time? Or is it more of the let Bochy do his thing?
    It is insane to not have Nady play more. Though, I wouldn’t put his glove in 3B.

  4. Yes, Towers mentioned it on a couple of occasions. He expressed his desire to see Nady getting more AB’s, but also mentioned Bochy makes out the lineup card (indicating the separation of duties between himself and Bochy). Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with putting him at 3B. It’s the one spot where his offense so clearly would be an upgrade worthy of putting up with some shortcomings defensively. He’s young, he’s athletic, and he could play the spot given a chance, imo.

  5. Man, I love that Troy Johnson. Outta Left Field is growing on me.

  6. A brief change of subject — why did the Padres pick today to put Dennys Reyes and Miguel Ascencio on waivers? Why the sudden need to free up roster spots?

  7. Whole lotta shakin’ going on:

    http://tinyurl.com/93lm5

    The rumored Burroughs-to-Portland move didn’t happen.