Johnny Damon not quite ready to be an 'old-timer'

Although he knows the end is near, he still hopes for one more MLB chance
06/27/2014 10:27 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Johnny Damon waves to the crowd during batting practice on Old-Timers' Day.(AP)
There was a lot of joking on Old-Timers' Day about whether or not Johnny Damon is really an "old-timer" yet; at 40 years old, there are still a handful of players in Major League Baseball who are older than he, with most of them still quite productive.

As it turns out, Damon could've used his Old-Timers' Day appearance as a showcase, being that he still hasn't officially announced his retirement and would consider an offer to return to baseball for the first time since 2012.

"I'll listen, and it depends on how much time they give me to get ready," Damon said of a potential comeback. "When I played for Cleveland, the season had started; in two weeks I rushed through spring training, and I didn't feel like I was ready to go until after 70 at-bats or so."

Among that group of players older than him are three - LaTroy Hawkins, Jason Giambi and Raul Ibanez - who just signed new contracts this past offseason, and it's those three in part who help keep his fire burning.

"I'm still in pretty good shape, and the opportunities that a lot of guys out there are still getting motivate me," he said. "I sit and go 'oh this guy's still playing,' so I'm kind of holding out hope. I'm in probably better soccer condition now, because that's what I normally do in the spring and fall - the summers are a little hot down in Florida - but I'm running around doing my thing."

That hope, Damon said, actually led to him turning down an invite to Old-Timers' Day in 2013, as he said he was "still waiting for the phone to ring" and didn't want to take any chances.

This year, though, he was another year into the reality that a two-game stint on Team Thailand in the World Baseball Classic qualifiers late in 2012 could be it for him. So he returned, and after admitting that his time was fading, Damon "broke" the news that by this time in 2015, his departure could be official.

"After that stint I had in Cleveland, I realized time wasn't on my side, and when they released me, it was kind of a wake-up call," he said. "I didn't think I would be finished then, but that's how it goes, and I don't think (another chance) is going to happen. I still haven't officially announced my retirement, just to hold out that glimmer of hope, but I'll probably finally announce it after spring training next year."

Damon is glad he did come back to the Bronx, where he received a very warm ovation that he credits in part to what happened in the final moment of his four years in pinstripes.

"It feels really good, and it's great to be back here in front of these fans. I wish I could've played for the Yankees for much longer, but things happen for a reason," he said. "I was very fortunate and blessed to win a championship here, and because of that, I can show my face here as much as I like!"

That seems to be a trend throughout the history of the organization, but for Damon, the best part about being one of the "new old guys" is reliving recent history with guys like fellow 2014 first-timer Hideki Matsui.

"We were very fortunate to be Yankees and see guys like Yogi Berra or Whitey Ford walk through the clubhouse," he said, "but seeing a lot of guys that I did play with was the special thing. Everyone wants to play forever, and when you get out of the game, you're never really ready - but when you come and see these guys, it lets you keep enjoying the game."

Of course, this will be the only year where the man Damon spent four years right next to in the batting order, Derek Jeter, is on the "other" side, and has everyone else in baseball, Damon had nothing but kind words to say about The Captain's farewell to baseball.

"(The end) has to happen sometime, and he's doing it great. These teams are giving him a nice farewell, and I'm glad he gets to start the second chapter of his life soon," Damon said.

Damon himself may be in limbo between phases of life, but he has plenty of other irons in the fire if baseball never calls back. In addition to promoting his vitamin-enhanced sports beverage, A-Game, he's also involved with a company called Speakaboos that helps children learn to read, and just prior to Old-Timers' Day, he finished taping an appearance on Celebrity Apprentice that will air sometime in the 2014-14 television season.

But as he tells it, he's most content to spend the majority of his time at home in Windermere, Florida, doting over his four children - including oldest son Jackson, who seems primed to be the next Damon to look out for on baseball scouting reports.

"My son is keeping me fit. He's a freshman in high school, and he's almost better than me now, so I'm very excited about that," he said, before laughing that Jackson is "my size and still growing, and he already looks better than me in a uniform!"

Perhaps nothing could be more satisfying for a father than to see his son following in his footsteps, and for Damon, it's doubly special because his offspring is definitely a chip off the young block.

"He's keeping me young and reminding me a lot of how I once was," Damon said. "It's great to see when your son starts to take after you."

And even if no calls come in, Jackson and the rest of the Damon Clan still likely count on seeing their patriarch once a year in the Bronx for Old-Timers' Day, at least if his final quote was any indication.

"I love it here; this is the best organization in baseball, and from top to bottom, the Yankees do everything first class…I'm so glad to be back."

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