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Damon helping Tigers in and out of clubhouse
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DETROITWhen the Tigers returned from their latest road trip, a gift was waiting in each player’s locker.
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It was a cross between a baseball jersey and a bathrobe, like something Hugh Hefner would wear to take batting practice. Olde English D on the front. Name and number on the back. Plush cotton from head to toe.
The official attire of a big-league badass.
Naturally, this was the work of Johnny Damon.
Damon wore a similar vestment during his time in New York. For a variety of reasons – pride, age and money, to name a few – Johnny isn’t a Yankee anymore.
But Damon isn’t dwelling on the unceremonious end to his time in the Bronx. He simply picked up a Tigers robe – it was waiting for him at Comerica Park on Opening Day, thanks to sportrobe.com – and became a trendsetter in Detroit.
After Damon’s new teammates told him how much they admired the fluffy frock, he made a gesture that befits a man of his financial/personal cachet.
He bought one for everybody.
“It’ll be like the Ritz-Carlton around here,” Dontrelle Willis said.
When a teammate asked to pay for his share, Damon refused. His treat.
Now the Tigers can strut around their locker room in style. To borrow from the popular commercial: There’s a little Johnny Damon in all of them.
“We need to enjoy being in the big leagues,” Damon explained with a smile before the Tigers beat the Twins, 11-6, Wednesday night. “Enjoy the perks. Play the part.
“You have to enjoy yourself. This game is too hard as it is. If you can somehow enjoy it, even through the tough times, then you’ll be OK. Even our tough times are so much better than what other people have going on out there.”
Yes, the Detroit clubhouse has become a livelier place with the arrival of perhaps the youngest 36-year-old in baseball. He is bringing a little East Coast chic to the Motor City, complete with his quasi-Mohawk haircut.
The eccentricities have helped the Tigers heal from last season – and the 12-inning loss to Minnesota in Game 163. Even as a newcomer, Damon spoke at the season-opening team dinner and talked about how much talent he saw in the room.
Damon is proving his agent right; Scott Boras believes that he “teaches locker rooms how to win.”
“The guy’s awesome,” said Ryan Raburn, whose playing time has been reduced since Damon arrived. “He’s been there, done that. He talks to everybody. He’s great to get along with. And I don’t see many 36-, 37-year-olds that bust their butt every play. It’s a pleasure to watch.”
“We’ve needed a guy like this in the clubhouse for a long time,” one member of the organization said. “ And he can play.”
Lest we forget: The Tigers didn’t give Damon an $8 million contract because of his choice in loungewear.
As of Thursday morning, he had a 15-game hit streak. His batting average, which was under .200 on Tax Day, is up to .321.
“The at-bats have definitely been better,” Damon said. “I’m still not happy yet. I want to try to find that home run swing that can put some quick runs on the board. Hopefully, that comes soon.”
Ah, yes: Remember the questions about whether Damon could hit for power at Comerica Park, after taking full advantage of Yankee Stadium’s right-field porch?
Well, Damon has yet to homer in Detroit – or anywhere else, for that matter – during the regular season.
Certainly, though, he’s hit a number of flies in Detroit that would have been out in New York.
“No,” Damon said.
How can that be? Damon said he’s altered his approach to fit his new (read: spacious) confines at Comerica. If he doesn’t hit 20 home runs, he’s “OK with that.”
“I’ve been able to adjust to the stadiums I play,” he said. “My average and RBI totals were the same, away and at home. At (Yankee Stadium), I knew I could crowd the plate a little more and do some damage that way. But I know I’m in a bigger ballpark now, and it’s been playing big so far.
“I understand I have to shorten up my swing. This will probably be the type of swings I have (here). Maybe I find a home-run stroke that can help me out during some times, but these pitchers know my résumé. They’re going to pitch me a certain way. I understand that.
“I have to do whatever it takes to get on base for the big boys.”
Very true. As long as Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera stay hot, base hits and timely RBIs will be just fine, thanks.
Damon, who has split time between left field and designated hitter, had a typical night on Wednesday: five plate appearances, three at-bats that helped his team. His deep fly to center in the sixth, which Denard Span nearly corralled on a controversial play, sparked a game-changing rally.
The Tigers’ comeback stylings – five-run deficit to five-run win – reminded Damon of his former club.
“Absolutely,” he said. “There’s no quit with this team.”
When the Yankees visit Detroit on May 10, there will be a fresh round of inquiries about whether Damon would have been better off staying in New York. Damon said his family has enjoyed life in suburban Oakland County, describing it as “more chill than I’m used to – and I’m definitely loving it.”
But he went from the best team in baseball to a second-place team in the American League Central. Isn’t there some part of him that misses Broadway?
“No,” he replied. “I definitely enjoyed playing there, but sometimes it’s good to move in this game. Sometimes things do become stale.
“I did enjoy playing there, but this place gives me a lot more I can look forward to. Just concentrate on baseball, concentrate on helping a bunch of young players. It’s easy travel. It’s easy on your family. There’s so many beneficial things.”
The Tigers are equally happy to have him around. They need his bat. And his fashion sense? That helps, too.
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