Notes: Damon ready to impress
Veteran looks to reclaim reputation as one of game's best
TAMPA, Fla. -- Johnny Damon may have been miles away from a New Jersey college campus last month, but that didn't protect him from stinging criticisms.
Speaking at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., on Jan. 25, general manager Brian Cashman said Damon reported to camp out of shape in 2007, which led to his slow start. Damon spoke privately with Cashman about the issue and assured him it would be corrected.
"I do not want him to have that feeling again," Damon said.
The 34-year-old Damon reported to Spring Training on Tuesday with numerous other position players, prepared for the club's first full-squad workout on Wednesday.
After losing his center-field position to Melky Cabrera and requiring a red-hot second half to rescue his offensive numbers, Damon said that he no longer hears his name come up in discussions of the game's best players. It's a perceived slight that he is determined to change.
"I think the pitchers know that I can still drive them crazy," Damon said. "In this game, you always have something to prove. You're only as good as your last at-bat. When the season ended, my bat was where it needed to be."
Though Damon said he is just four pounds lighter than he was at the end of last season, weighing in Tuesday at 214, he believes the weight is better distributed. Unable to work out extensively last winter because of a right foot injury, Damon rediscovered the gym at his Orlando, Fla., home and enlisted the help of a younger local ballplayer to help him with throwing exercises.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he envisions Damon as the club's Opening Day left fielder and leadoff batter, getting 600 plate appearances somehow. As camp progresses and first-base candidates are whittled away, Damon said he expected to also take some ground balls.
"He's really important to this offense, because he starts things," Girardi said. "He puts on tough at-bats right from the start of the game, and he sets the tone. We expect him to be healthy and score a lot of runs."
Damon said that he was happy to finally have a low-key offseason after four consecutive hectic winters. A severe concussion, a World Series title, free agency and a baby girl interrupted Damon's decompression periods, but he finally was able to clear his mind this year.
"I could never regroup," Damon said. "So this offseason, I finally was able to work out consistently. I was able to do things that this game has afforded me to do. I'm ready to go out there and prove to everybody that I'm still a pretty good player."
Team first: Had the Yankees moved forward with their rumored trade proposal for Johan Santana, it's quite likely that Cabrera would have been dropping equipment off at Twins camp in Fort Myers and Damon would be getting his customary center-field position back.
It was a scenario that, believe it or not, Damon was rooting against. While he kept up with talks and pined for Santana in pinstripes, Damon said he privately wished the trade would fall through and the Yankees could just sign Santana as a free agent after '08. That obviously won't happen, but Damon said he is happy to still call Cabrera a teammate.
"Melky Cabrera has just done an awesome job out there," Damon said. "I've been around and I understand this game. I understand what it's going to take for this team to win. If you can have a center fielder like Melky throwing guys out at any given time, that's pretty good. He may be the only one in the league who can do that."
Fair warning: Jason Giambi spends his offseasons in Las Vegas, so he's not always the easiest person to reach. But after initially playing phone tag with the slugger, Girardi and Giambi hooked up for several conversations during the winter.
Girardi's message for Spring Training struck a chord: Jason, you'd better be ready to run.
There were periods of last season where that would have been a pain sentence for Giambi, but the 37-year-old says that's no longer the case. He dropped a few pounds over the winter and said he traded treadmills for flat ground so that he would be able to run more in camp, a staple of the Yankees' early life under Girardi.
"I feel a lot leaner -- I feel great," Giambi said. "I want to get back out at first base, hopefully [Girardi] will give me that opportunity to get out there and play. Being on my feet was going to be the toughest thing, so I was out there making sure I was on the ground all the time."
Giambi is in the final year of his seven-year contract with the Yankees and faces uncertainty. While he could see time as a first baseman or a designated hitter, there are numerous contenders to fill those at-bats, meaning Spring Training has a purpose for Giambi.
"I'm looking for Jason to be the hitter that he's capable of being and play some defense for us," Girardi said. "There's some interesting decisions to be made. In 6 1/2 weeks, usually you can work things out."
Girardi said that, despite winning an MVP Award and other honors, the one thing that has eluded Giambi thus far is a World Series ring. Based upon their conversations, Girardi senses Giambi "knows what's at stake." But even if it doesn't happen, it might not be a last hurrah.
"I've still got a lot of good years left," Giambi said. "I plan to play past this year. I feel good, I love this game, and they're going to have to tear the uniform off me."
Attention, please: More than three months have passed since Girardi accepted the position of Yankees manager, and the topics to be covered in his first address at the helm have had some time to percolate. The big day comes Thursday morning, and though Girardi insists his speech won't be long, it will have purpose.
"I've jotted things down," Girardi said. "I've thought about it since taking the job. Obviously, you'll have more talks as time goes on, but there's a lot of things to cover."
Girardi said he plans to go last in a succession of speakers. Cashman, trainer Gene Monahan, media relations director Jason Zillo and traveling secretary Ben Tuliebitz also address players on the first day of camp.
Bombers bits: Andy Pettitte received a warm ovation from fans as he worked out for the first day at Legends Field. ... Senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner and general partner Hal Steinbrenner watched pitching sessions from a perch behind the bullpen. ... Guest instructors Tino Martinez and Mickey Rivers reported to camp. Yogi Berra is scheduled to arrive Feb. 29. ... Former Yankee Ron Villone signed a Minor League contract with the Cardinals.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Dawn Klemish, a contributor for MLB.com, contributed to this notebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.