SARASOTA, Fla. - It's a safe bet no one in the Yankees' clubhouse challenged four-time Olympic gold medal winner Michael Johnson to a race. But Johnson does get that occasionally from professional athletes.
How does he handle it?
"I go out there and kick their - -," Johnson, 42, laughed Monday in Tampa before the Yankees left to play the Orioles.
Johnson, though, wasn't in town for footraces. Rather, he was at Steinbrenner Field to talk to the Yankees about kicking some butt of their own in 2010, much as they did in 2009.
Johnson spoke to the team at the behest of mental conditioning director Chad Bohling and Joe Girardi, delivering a message about avoiding complacency.
Johnson, as the only athlete to win the 200 and 400 meters in the same Olympics (doing so in Atlanta in 1996), knows something about the topic. He successfully defended his title in the 400 in Sydney in 2000.
"He was one of the best in the world in what he did for a long time,'' Alex Rodriguez said before the bus left for Sarasota. "Obviously, you want all of us to stay hungry and stay motivated, and I think this group has that. Last year was the perfect example of teamwork from top to bottom.''
Johnson and Rodriguez, both longtime Nike clients, have known each other since A-Rod played for the Mariners.
Johnson, who is based in McKinney, Texas as the proprietor of the Michael Johnson Performance and Training Center, said his message is simple.
"I think one of the most important things for them at this point is . . . how do you stay on top?" Johnson said. "It's easy to get complacent and start to believe the things you guys write and . . . you have to try to keep that hunger, and I think that's the most important challenge facing the entire team is how do you stay hungry and go out there this year with the same type of drive and determination and motivation that they had last year that helped them be successful."
Girardi said he's had several speakers, whom he declined to name - "I don't know if they'd want it to be known they were here" - in camp, but not because he felt his team had shown any signs of complacency.
"Obviously, he's a guy that's had repeated success and has been a top-notch athlete for a long time," Girardi said of Johnson. "He understands about preparation, the physical demands and the mental demands it takes to be a champion."
Girardi said later: "I'm not necessarily so concerned about complacency. I just think it's great to have a man of his caliber in here. We brought people in last year and we've brought all different kinds of people in [this year] and it's something we thought has been beneficial to us."
Johnson, who won nine world championships from 1991-99, said the concepts that kept him motivated are universal. "I think that you have to find new goals," he said. "That's how I did it. Every year there was a new goal, and that's what these guys have to do individually as well as a team: They have to have a new goal.
"It could be as simple as being world champions again because some of these guys haven't done that and this particular team as a unit hasn't done that, and that's special."