Damon eager to help young Indians learn how to win
CLEVELAND (AP) Johnny Damon has fond memories of playing at Progressive Field against the Cleveland Indians.
Now the 38-year-old outfielder wants to add a few highlights at the ballpark - this time while wearing the home uniform.
Damon played his first home game for the Indians on Friday night in the opener of a three-game series against the Texas Rangers. He was as excited to be in the lineup as he was in his rookie year with the Kansas City Royals in 1995.
"I remember coming here when this place was packed every game," Damon said. "I know how crazy this place was. It was wild."
More than 2,700 hits, seven teams and two World Series titles later, Damon wants to help the Indians get back to the level they were at 17 years ago - AL champions.
"This is a good ballclub with or without me," said Damon, who signed as a free agent April 17 and made his Indians debut Wednesday. "I'm here to help us get better not this year, but for the future.
"One reason I came here is this team can win now, but is also developing for the future. It's a very exciting time."
Manager Manny Acta is confident Damon can help in left field and provide an offensive spark at the top of the order. A year ago, Damon played only 16 games in the outfield and 135 as the designated hitter for Tampa Bay, batting .261 with 16 homers and 73 RBIs.
"He was very productive last year," Acta said. "We need a guy like him here. His track record speaks for itself. We'll see how much he can play in the outfield."
Damon admits that will be a challenge.
"I'm trying to get my legs under me and get used to playing the outfield again," Damon said. "I feel great. How the constant pounding of the season affects me, we'll see. I've been around for hitting more than defense the past few years."
Damon has always enjoyed hitting - and running - at his new home ballpark. He's a .308 career hitter in Cleveland with 14 stolen bases in 15 tries for Kansas City, Oakland, Boston, the New York Yankees, Detroit and the Rays. His first three games in Cleveland were at the end of the Indians' fabulous 1995 season when Cleveland outscored Kansas City 27-11 in a three-game sweep to finish with a 100-44 record in a strike-shortened season.
He also remembers one of the more bizarre ballgames in Cleveland history - when the Indians defeated the New York Yankees in the 2007 AL division series, aided by an infestation of bugs.
"Hopefully, they are now on my side," Damon said. "Those midges really hurt us. But the Indians were a very good team that year."
Damon thinks these Indians, currently leading the AL Central, can give Cleveland fans something to cheer about now.
"Cleveland needs something to grasp on," Damon said. "I've seen how alive this town can be, how exciting the ballpark can be. I'm eager to be part of it."
Updated May 4, 2012