How Johnny Damon Nearly Took Me Deep

When I was a teenager I grew up watching the Red Sox vs. Yankees rivalry. The Yankees had the old school clean cut shave look. The Red Sox with the scruffy look, a lot of beards and long hair. One player that vividly stood out in my mind looked like a caveman. He had a thick beard and had the longest hair on the Red Sox. He also stood out because his incredible game 7 performance in the ALCS against the Yankees (3-6, 2 hrs, 6 RBIs) which helped end the curse of the Bambino. His name was Johnny Damon.

The movie Moneyball came out in 2011 which happened to be during my first off season with the White Sox. Just like every other baseball fanatic I went and fled to the movie theaters and watched it the first weekend it came out. In the opening scene of Moneyball it shows Johnny Damon slapping a double down the right field line at Yankee Stadium. The whole motive behind the movie Moneyball is trying to recreate the players Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi without spending the premium for them.

Fast forward 7 months and I am in extended spring training with the White Sox. Extended spring training is intended for guys either going to rookie ball or guys that are injured and need to get more reps before they are assigned to a minor league team. On this particular day in April I am scheduled to throw 2 innings in relief against the Cleveland Indians extended spring training team. As we arrived to the Indians complex I started to hear that Johnny Damon had just signed with the Indians and he was going to be playing against us before he was assigned to the big league club. How cool is that? I might have a chance to face him!

Johnny Damon

Facing Johnny Damon in Extended Spring Training 2012

I pitched the 6th and 7th innings of the game. Sure enough in my second inning he was due up 3rd. I could hardly wait. I wanted to get through the first two batters as fast as I could so I could face him. After I retire the first two batters in order. In steps Johnny Damon. No big deal. Just another hitter I told myself. Over my career I devolved a natural cutting fastball. So when a left handed batter would step in I would throw it inside to ride in on lefty’s to create weak contact. That was the plan of attack with Johnny Damon. First pitched I pulled a fastball inside for ball one. 2nd pitch a little closer but still inside for ball two. The 3rd pitch caught the inside corner but was called a ball. What was just a strike to the no name minor leaguer that just grounded out to short is now a ball to Johnny Damon. Ok, I get it. He’s going to get the benefit of the doubt, not me. So here I am 3-0 on Johnny Damon. The last thing I wanted to do was walk him! On 3-0 I threw one right down the pipe for a called strike one. On 3-1 I went back inside with a cutter and didn’t quite get it in there far enough…WHACK! Off the bat I thought it was gone. I stood there and watched Johnny hobble out of the box and begin his home run trot down the first baseline. As I looked back at the ball it was on its way down. It short hopped the fence FOUL! Thank goodness, although if I was going to give up a home run to anyone I wouldn’t be ashamed to give it up to Johnny Damon. The guy could very well be a Hall of Famer. He has more hits than Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, and Reggie Jackson just to name a few. So a foul ball runs the count full 3-2. On 3-2 I went back inside with a cutter and got it in there this time and got him to pop out weakly to 3rd. The crowd went wild….well no they didn’t because there was a total of 6 people there watching, two of which were my parents.

Although Johnny Damon was 38 years old and at the end of his career it was still a cool moment for me. To have that experience to face someone that not only had been in the big leagues but had great success at the big league level was pretty cool. It gave me confidence that I could get anybody out. He went 0-4 that day including losing a fly ball in the sun and nearly getting hit in the head on the first play of the game. Guess it wasn’t his day! Although he did nearly hit a home run that day.

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