Here’s Johnny: Damon discusses new deal
Newly-signed outfielder Johnny Damon was in a talking mood on Tuesday, when it was officially announced that he penned his name on a Minor League contract with the Tribe. Damon discussed the new deal from Arizona, where he is currently training in preparation for joining the Indians within the next couple of weeks. Here is the full transcript of his conference call with Cleveland reporters from this afternoon.
Reporter: Happy to have the deal finally announced?
Damon: I feel good about it getting done. All the procedures that have to take place and all the physicals that have to happen, I’m glad I passed with flying colors. I’m excited. It’s been about a week where I knew this was going to happen. Unfortunately, it took this long, but I got out to the Goodyear facility and I can’t believe how nice these places are now. There’s going to be plenty of work for me to do in the next week or couple weeks to prepare and get ready. They seem to have everything here that I need and the staff’s been great so far. I’m just excited about the opportunity.
Reporter: How much time do you think you’ll need to get ready?
Damon: I guess we really can’t put a timetable on it. I feel like I can be ready in a week, but I understand the sitting around and geting ready for a game and coming in from batting practice — that type of stuff. I’m working my legs out hard. I ran a bunch today. I hit. I shagged [fly balls]. I went back tot he weight room. I kept myself in pretty good shape during the offseason. That’s why I don’t think it’s going to be too long. But, I also understand that when the Cleveland Indians do get me, I need to be in great shape and just be healthy and be ready to go. Hopefully, those guys can continue to play like they played against Kansas City. That was very refrehsing to see. The bats picked up. Hopefully they continue that. There’s not as big of a rush right now, but I’m going to do whatever I can.
Reporter: What are some of your thoughts on the Indians and your new teammates?
Damon: Well, I’ve played with Shelley Duncan before, and Casey Kotchman and Derek Lowe. We all got along very well. I know the other guys mostly by passing and talking to them byt he cages and that kind of stuff. They’re a team that’s building for the future, but they also have a chance to win now. That’s a good thing to have. They locked up a few players and I know they might be working on a few more, possibly. It’s that right mix. A team that’s as youthful as they are, and adding a guy like Derek Lowe during the offseason, and now adding a guy like me, hopefully we can give them a boost and some experience. This team is young. They’re preparing for the future, but they’re aso prepared right now.
Reporter: Has GM Chris Antonetti or manager Manny Acta explained to you exactly what role you’ll play?
Damon: The No. 1 thing is get there and play as hard as I can and hopefully as good as I can. I understand the game of baseball and how guys can get hot and you can’t take them out of the lineup. I also understand that I can get hot and it can be tough to get me out of the lineup. I’m here for the team. It’s not a story about me. It’s a story about the Cleveland Indians adding another guy to help them throughout the season. Whatever role it’s going to be — whether it’s a platoon thing or an everyday thing or spell guys when they’re tired, play a little first — I’m up for whatever. I’m excited about the opportunity and playing in front of a new set of fans. It seems to be the thing I do a lot. This is team No. 7. I know the fans are going to love the way I play and hopefully I play well. I’ve been coming to Cleveland for 17 years now and I’ve always enjoyed myself. I’ve always enjoyed catching up with a bunch of my friends there. I’ll do whatever it takes and hopefully we can continue to play well before I get there and also afterward.
Reporter: Did you come close to signing with anybody during the offseason? Why do you think no one signed you until now?
Damon: I really have no idea. I think the way the game is going, some teams want to wait to see what they have first. Give guys who are there, and possibly younger than me, and see what they can do, see if they developed over the offseason. Obviously, after last season, I thought I was going back to Tampa, but they wanted to get younger, too. The New York situation popped up, because Manny Ramirez retired last year and [the Rays] moved me from playing left field every day to the DH role for a second straight year. So New York wasn’t quite sure what I can or can’t do, and Detroit had a whole bunch of young guys, too. Obviously, I looked at a few teams I played on before. There was a team where I could sign in Spring Training, but it wasn’t a perfect fit, because I would’ve had to hope somebody would get hurt and all that stuff. That’s just bad karma. It wasn’t a situation that I wanted to be in. When I started hearing rumblings about Cleveland and the possibilities, and how I could go out to the outfield, and re-establish myself some with platooning and being around a bunch of young guys, being around some former teammates, it’s refreshing. That’s why I jumped on this and hopefully at the end of the day, at the end of the year, everybody will look at it a a great signing.
Reporter: How important is reaching 3,000 hits to you?
Damon: Obviously, I would like to get it. But it’s never been something that I set out for throughout my career. I’ve never bunted with a five-run lead for that extra hit. If I have a chance to walk, I’m going to. Unfortunately, with me, because I’ve played everywhere, people want to just assume how I play. But the track record shows that I an go out and I play hard and I play to win. That’s why I’ve been able to help some teams win championships and help some teams that really weren’t that good become a bit better. Three-thousand would be great, but I’m playing to win. I’m playing for the Tribe fans. I’m playing for the Indians organization. I’m not really playing for myself. Obviously, I always want to go out there and play well and treat the game with respect, but there’s a lot of fans out there of mine that really wanted to see me keep pushing and keep fighting. And I have a lot of former teammates and friends who would really love to put on that Major League uniform again. So I think I’m playing more for them and I’m playing more for my foundation, when I’m done playing. I’m playing for all the fans out there. I wasn’t ready to pack it up. So 3,000 could be on the horizon, but if it comes or not, when I leave this game I want to make sure there’s no regrets out there. As long as I keep doing what I did last year, and hopefully this is a sucessful year, I’m going to keep going.
Reporter: How much do you think you can play in the outfield?
Damon: Hopefully as much as they need me out there. I have to go out there and play well and let Manny Acta see that I can still do it. I also understand that Shelley Duncan is the starting left fielder right now. I’m coming in more of a platoon role. If Manny can’t keep me out of the lineup, then I’ll be in more. If Shelley Duncan keeps hitting home runs and putting runs on the board, then Shelley deserves to be out there. Shelley and I worked well together in New York. I had a really bad calf injury that rookie year that he had. When he got there was a time I could actually rest it for a couple days. It became full strength again just because he was doing so well when he came up. I got those three days off that I desperately needed. That’s why I really like Shelley Duncan. He really helped me get healthy. And the way he swings the bat, he’s not afraid to swing it and is not afraid to fail. I like guys who have that home run stroke. I’m looking forward to working with him and hopefully helping him get better, as he’s going to do with me also.
Moderator: All right, guys. Thanks, Johnny.
Damon: All right. I hope to see you soon. Hopefully sooner than later.