For Damon, a 'smooth transition'
Ex-Yankee adjusting to life outside game's biggest rivalry
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The changing of the guard occurred in ironic, if not appropriate, fashion.
While Johnny Damon was talking to former coaches following batting practice at Joker Marchant Stadium on Wednesday, newly incumbent Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson was walking by after having dressed in the visitors' clubhouse.
The ever-friendly Damon quickly reached over and tapped Granderson on the shoulder.
The equally jovial Granderson, who was surprised, turned and smiled.
"Hey, what's up," said Granderson, eyes wide open.
The two slapped hands in greeting fashion.
Granderson continued on his way, taking his turn on the field he used to call his Spring Training home.
Damon turned back to the coaches with a sheepish smile.
"That was neat," Damon said.
Granderson shined in his return to Lakeland, ending the day with two singles, a walk and a deep flyout in four at-bats, in addition to a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch against the wall on a Miguel Cabrera blast in the fifth inning.
Damon, meanwhile, was forced to sit out the game against his former club because of a turf toe injury to his left foot that was sustained while "running around in the yard with his kids" a day earlier.
The juxtaposition of it all was almost as surreal as the day in December 2005 that the Yankees announced they had signed the fan favorite of the Red Sox.
Damon, who treated Wednesday's no-show as a ho-hum Spring Training afternoon game, has realized that his days of wearing pinstripes are no more.
When he saw his former manager, Joe Girardi, outside the Tigers' clubhouse on Wednesday, Damon bellowed, "Hey, skip," to which Girardi responded, "Johnny, how are ya?"
Then, after spending a good 20-25 minutes catching up with players, coaches and staff members from his old team, Damon joked about seeing his former mates, saying, "Yeah, they still love me, but secretly, they hate me."
Damon, who signed as a free agent with the Tigers last month, received treatment on his injury before fielding fly balls and taking batting practice. He will wait until Thursday before deciding whether to play against the Phillies in Clearwater, Fla., at 1:05 p.m. ET.
"I would have played if it was the regular season, but it's just spring, so I'm going to let it rest," Damon said.
While he was disappointed about not being in the lineup, Damon flashed his usual ear-to-ear grin when talking about his time in New York and his present-day status with the Tigers.
"Of course I would have loved to have helped to win another championship with them," Damon said of the Yankees. "New York is a great franchise, and I'm happy to have won a championship while there. I'm going to try to do everything I can now to help these guys win one."
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Sporting about "a week's worth" of growth on his face, Damon has undergone a decidedly different transition from New York to Detroit than what he experienced in his move from the Red Sox to the Yankees. For one, the trip to Joker Marchant Stadium for Spring Training is "much easier" than the trip to George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla.
"I haven't passed the exit yet like I did in Tampa," Damon said.
For another, the locker room is "smaller and allows me to see and talk to everyone, which is nice."
Damon has also had to adjust to playing for a team outside the Yankees-Red Sox mega-rivalry.
"The pressure to win [in Detroit] is different, obviously," Damon said. "Going from Boston to New York, it was already ingrained. There was no way I was going to wear my ring [from winning a World Series with the Red Sox] while in New York. That would have been tough to do that."
Damon, who is batting .417 so far this spring, is still getting his feet wet with his new squad, but he did stop Tigers manager Jim Leyland in the clubhouse to explain what happened with his foot and offered an apology. Overall, though, Damon feels like a new chapter has begun and the pages have almost completely turned.
"It's been a smooth transition," Damon said. "Before I signed with them, I knew this was where I wanted to end up."
As far as not playing against the Yankees on Wednesday, Damon knows that each time he faces them, whether it occurs during Spring Training or the regular season, the discussion of his new transition will grow and ultimately subside.
"Each time, there will be that anticipation, but eventually, it will just be another game against another team," Damon said.
Granderson knows that his role with the Yankees doesn't necessarily demand that he replace Damon as much as it asks that he live up to his own expectations -- "doing what I need to do to help the team win," he said.
"I can't get caught up in living in that shadow," Granderson said. "I'm different than he is. He's a guy who has two championships now. He bounced from two popular teams. Each of us do things different. He was an on-base kind of player, and my goal isn't to to be a .400 on-base kind of guy."
While Granderson's career on-base percentage of .344 isn't far behind Damon's .355 mark, it's clear that the latest high-profile addition to the Yankees' outfield wants to establish a name of his own.
If Granderson continues to play like he did on Wednesday, Yankees fans will have no problem chanting "Cur-tis Grander-son" in the Bronx.
"That was an outstanding catch," Girardi said of Granderson's snare in the fifth inning. "We'd like to see him do that all season."
Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.