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Archive for Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Commentary: Red Sox fans go easy on Damon

May 3, 2006

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— Perhaps because he has known the Fenway rabble intimately, known what he did for them and meant to them for four years, Johnny Damon had an inkling his reception on returning to their midst wouldn't be nearly so brutal as what might otherwise be expected for a traitor of the worst kind.

"To be honest," he said, "Doug (Mirabelli) coming back is a bigger story because he was surprised at being traded and he and (Tim) Wakefield work so well together.

"I never want to put feelings into anyone. I want them to make their own decision."

And so when the pregame lineup introductions were being made, a light riff of cheers could be detected amid the expected boos for Damon, while, in contrast, Mirabelli, the backup catcher reacquired by the Red Sox from the San Diego Padres earlier in the day, received an ovation worthy of a returning Carl Yastrzemski.

It was as if the Nation's wrath for one returning "Idiot" was tempered by another's rekindling of the spirit of '04 - especially since, in Mirabelli's absence as the knuckleballer Wakefield's personal catcher, newcomer Josh Bard had caused much angst across New England with his ungodly 10 passed balls.

They could not bring themselves to hate. And when Damon stood alongside the batter's box prior to his first at-bat, he merely smiled, waiting patiently, allowing them to bear their hurt, before tipping his helmet and turning the boos into cheers.

"I planned to do that all along if I heard enough cheers, and I did," Damon said. "I understand the way they feel; how it works here; how they hate seeing me in this uniform. But that was cool and after that, it was on to hating the Yankees."

Maybe not all was forgiven, but at least all agreed it now was time to move on.

When he went out to center field for the first time in the first inning, fans from the bleachers tossed fake dollars - and some real ones - at him, a far cry from the batteries and other assorted missiles with real harm intended.

"This place is magical," Damon said in deference to Fenway and the Red Sox fans. "I'm happy for them. I'm happy for Big Papi (David Ortiz). I'm happy for (Curt) Schilling's start. I'm happy for (Jason) Varitek. I'm happy Mirabelli's back. And I'm happy for (his currently injured center field replacement) Coco (Crisp) coming in here and getting to experience what I did for four years."

Was this any way to heat up a rivalry? Indeed, what was supposed to be Damon in the lion's den instead seemed all too warm and fuzzy Monday night, although a lot of that had to do with the Nation having the best of all worlds - getting to both decry and embrace Damon before eventually celebrating a victory in the first head-to-head meeting of the season with the Yankees.

"I think down deep the fans understand why I left," Damon said. "They know they had a plan here. They set a value on me and they stuck to it. They knew I didn't want to leave. But the way I see it, everyone benefits. It helps me to go to New York and the fans here are gonna love to see the way Coco plays and hustles so hard."

If you didn't know better, you'd have thought Damon, in his own mind, hadn't totally come to grips with crossing over in the rivalry.

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