Has Damon Found the Fountain of Youth?
Down near the shadows of Progress Energy Field, the Tampa Bay Rays former Spring home stadium, stands a fountain of strange lore. An ancient artesian well that still gurgles and bubbles mineral enriched water from the limestone Florida aquifer said to be beneficial to restoring vigor, vitality and longevity.
Starting to think that possibly Rays Clubhouse Manager Chris Westmoreland has a clubhouse attendant out there nightly scooping up a gallon or two and chilling the contents and placing it within reach of Rays veteran Johnny Damon for pre-game time use. Thousand of past Winter visitors have barked and shouted
about this unique hidden gem among the trees and bushes of First Street South, and by the way Damon is playing…..He knows the secret too.
Some say that veterans come to the Rays for two reasons: One is a chance to play among their family and friends, possibly for the last few seasons of their long MLB careers, and other come here hoping to ride the recent post season Rays comet for a hope and chance at again tasting last October magic and champagne.
I have a feeling Damon is here for a third reason….that water is re-vitalizing his career, his focus and his chance to step further into baseball lore. Damon has become the unsung hero, providing an accentual immortal backbone to this young squad, becoming the clubhouse muse, and rising to an insured spot of local cult hero status in the Tampa Bay area.
When Johnny Damon was first introduced this Spring along with some other guy now long gone, Mr. Biceps was the player who shined on that panel. He was the one who seemed overanxious for the Spring to start, pumped at the possibilities of the season.
From that first introduction of Damon to the Rays Republic masses, we all began the healing process of forgetting what a thorn Damon had been in the Rays side as a member of the Red Sox, Yankees and Tigers. Now the Rays Republic could use Damon’s vitality for our own good, to prime his fuel pump and watch Johnny run simultaneously with this young Rays team until the needle hit past empty churning on fumes taking each and every game to it’s limits. That to me is the “Damon Way”.
Think for a moment what this team would have been like in the first month of this season with Damon pulling wins out of the air with walk-off magic, key hits and even a few well placed chats with a few of the struggling Rays hitters. Damon can honestly say without a shadow of a doubt this team counts on his positive drive, hacks at the plate and this young squad finds confidence and strength in Damon’s exploits nightly.
Most thought Damon might have picked a chance to play with the Rays as his “swan song”, a chance to play in front of friends, family and his extended baseball circle that broadens and expands with every swing of his bat. Damon so far has been worth every penny the Rays will pay him, and then some.
Too bad Damon might never even get a dime of the attendance incentives he had positioned in his contract due to a significant drop in Rays attendance. But it is still early, and with a surge by this team again to the top of the American League East, the fans will walk to the turnstiles and again be a vocal force in the seats. Some thought Damon was nuts to include those “ incentive clauses”, but Damon was thinking “ outside the batters’ box”.
But there is also a side to Damon that has puzzled me. Here is a guy constantly walking his name up the hitting charts with every solid swing of his bat, and there is not bravado, no outward “me” complex, no exclusion from the ranks of the team. That my friends is the true essence of a “team player”. Bryce Harper could use a few well-pointed lessons from this humble hero.
Amazing enough, Damon has reached base in 33 straight games this season, a new career high for the Orlando native. This is currently the longest streak of its kind in the American League this season, and Damon is quickly approaching the 37 game MLB 2011 mark set by Los Angele Dodger OF Andre Either earlier this season. Remarkably Damon is hitting .315 during his streak.
Maybe playing on this young squad has actually been a proverbial “Fountain of Youth” for Damon. Consider this impressive mark for a moment. You think I am dreaming, last night Damon has 3 extra base hits for the first time since April 27, 2008. Want a even better exclamation point on that “youthful” vitality statement, Damon has now hit lead-off for the past 5 Rays games, and has 4 extra base knocks to go along with a vibrant .409 batting average.
With 3 more double-baggers, Damon will become the 11th player EVER with 500 doubles, 100 triples, 200 Home Runs and 2,500 hits. The 10 former MLB players to already hit this mark, George Brett, Goose Goslin, Roger Hornsby, Willy Mays, Paul Molitor, Stan Musial, Babe Ruth, Al Simmons and Robin Yount already have plaques in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Now that is some good company to be associated with….bar none for a re-energized hitter.
With his hair cut into a faux hawk, and sporting a mostly clean shaven look so far this season for the Rays, Damon is definitely not showing those proverbial aches and pains of guys starting to see the shadows of the end of their career. Possibly the youth on this team has inspired and brought Damon back to his baseball earlier roots, possibly back to those long forgotten KC Days. Some nights Damon looks like a man possessed with confidence, energy and a willingness to do everything humanly possible to bring home a “W”.
With every smack of the ball, every stolen base attempt and time he crosses the plate, Damon shows more and more he is in that elite class of players that you enjoy watching play the game. I was excited the first moment he took a seat at the Press Conference this Spring, and I still get giddy nightly at what he can do with not only his bat, but his presence in a game.
Tonight during the Rays late night game against the Angels before they again head eastbound for 3 in Baltimore and a lone showdown in Motown, I am going to keep a close eye on Damon in the Rays dugout.
I want to see if there is a silver chalice, and chilled elixir saved especially for Damon as he returns to the bench. Possibly the same nectar Ponce de Leon spoke of so long ago. Sure, the water in the receptacle handed to Damon is filtered, purified and possibly from a aquifer somewhere, but we know it possibly is not the fabled water of the Fountain of Youth.
Damon’s resurgence is not defined by the water he drinks, the food he eats or even the amount of sleep he gets on the plane. Damon seems to be having fun with the game again, and that can make even the most severe pain cease and positive moments shine brighter than ever.
But just in case, I am going to go by that fabled Fountain when I return Friday night to St. Petersburg and grab me a few sips of that mineral-enriched goodness from below. Now if this weekend’s blogs seem better written, more concise and to the point, possibly the best I have ever produced…..Then we will talk about the water again…. ore it will be my secret, along with Johnny.