PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona has scrapped a move to temporarily rebrand a freeway recognizing soon-to-be baseball Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, keeping in place the existing name that honors a soldier who died in the Iraq War in 2003.
The decision to nix an event honoring the former Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher drew praise from family members of Pfc. Lori Piestewa, who said they were surprised to hear about the rebranding.
“I’m very thankful to the Diamondback people and whoever made that decision to not follow through with it,” said the fallen soldier’s mother, Priscilla Piestewa.
The Arizona Diamondbacks and state officials had planned a celebration Friday to temporarily post signs on State Route 51 to honor Johnson — who wore the number “51” while playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Gov. Doug Ducey, Johnson and team officials were among those who had planned to attend.
The Diamondbacks announced the cancellation in a news release late Tuesday, saying the Piestewa family’s concerns were understandable.
“We are always going to honor Lori Piestewa, and the 51 is Piestewa Parkway,” Ducey said Wednesday.
The Diamondbacks said none of the organizers wanted to pursue the rebranding — which was set to last three weeks. They noted that Johnson has visited troops overseas and is working to have two wounded service members attend the Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Piestewa, 23, was the first female soldier to die in the Iraq War in 2003. A member of the Hopi tribe and native of Tuba City, she died when her convoy was ambushed in Nasiriyah. Arizona officials named the highway in her honor shortly after her death, and federal officials changed the name of a nearby mountain peak in Phoenix.
The point had previously been called Squaw Peak, which American Indian groups considered offensive and sought for years to change.
Piestewa’s mother said she was surprised when she found out about the planned rebranding of the freeway that had been named to honor her daughter’s service.
“I hope it remains Piestewa. That’s all I can do is hope,” Priscilla Piestewa said.
Ducey said officials will find an alternative way to honor Johnson.
“Our intent was never to disrespect or diminish Lori Piestewa or her service and sacrifice — but rather to ceremonially and temporarily pay tribute to Randy Johnson as he becomes the first Arizona Diamondback to be inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame,” Ducey’s office said in a statement Tuesday night.
Priscilla Piestewa says the organizers made the right decision.
“Lori’s purpose in life was to provide peace, unity and love to the world,” she said.
Johnson’s Hall of Fame induction is scheduled for July 26. Johnson was one of the most dominant pitchers of his generation, leading the Diamondbacks to the 2001 World Series title over New York Yankees.
Associated Press writer Bob Christie contributed to this story.
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