By Mike Philbrick and Kieran Darcy
Page 2

Editor's Note: On the night of Johnny Damon's return to Fenway, we decided to have Page 2 editors Mike Philbrick (a card-carrying member of Red Sox Nation) and Kieran Darcy (who bleeds Bronx Bomber blue) write up their thoughts on the evening's events.

MESSAGE FROM RED SOX NATION
All the anticipation of another Red Sox-Yankees game was there. Anticipation courtesy of a 100-plus year rivalry, plus former Red Sox deity Johnny Damon making his return to Fenway Park wearing that grotesque NY on his cap.

I bought all of it. I was ready to hate Johnny Damon.

Then I started thinking about the game, and I found myself forgetting about Damon. I was thinking more about how great it was that Doug Mirabelli was flying across the country to rejoin the team to catch Tim Wakefield's elusive knuckleball. And it was May 1. Hey! That means Coco Crisp's return is right around the corner.

Red Sox Nation
Elise Amendola/AP Photo
Red Sox Nation certainly voiced its displeasure at Johnny Damon Monday night.

All those good feelings were interrupted by a low chorus of boos coming through my TV. Damon was taking batting practice, and the few who were already at Fenway were letting him hear it. Some with boos. Some with taunts. And one guy, who must have come straight from Kinko's, with a "Judas Damon" sign.

But that wasn't the real test. Damon's true baptism came when Fenway announcer Carl Beane told us, "Leading off for the Yankees, the center fielder, Johnny Damon." When he did, down came the boos … sure, there were a few people standing up and cheering, but you had to squint pretty hard and listen very closely to make them out. It didn't matter that Damon took a step back and tipped his hat to the crowd (something the beloved Ted Williams never did) -- the Nation's mind was made up as soon as Judas Damon put pen to Yankee paper.

I just didn't get it. I didn't get anyone who would take the time to boo Damon. Forget about his time in Boston. The 2004 season, the concussion in Oakland in 2003 … all that stuff should be recognized, but forget all that. Just think of it this way -- if you knew you could walk away from your old car tomorrow and get a newer, better one at a much lower price, would you do it? Theo Epstein would -- and he did.

My fellow citizens of Red Sox Nation tend to forget what we learned not too long ago in the winter of 2003. Remember, without Theo's killer presentation at the Family Schilling's Thanksgiving feast and the MLBPA telling A-Rod he couldn't change his contract, we very easily could be looking at Curt Schilling, Yankees ace, and Alex Rodriguez, Red Sox shortstop. We love this game, but it's still just a business.

The only people who should be booing are the ones who have about $1,834 worth of Damon, Pedro and Nomar jerseys gathering dust in their closet. (Obviously these are not the people who threw cash at Damon from the center field bleachers. Dude! One of those was a $20! Everyone knows no joke involving the tossing away of currency should exceed Mr. Lincoln status.)

So, sorry to everyone who tossed out their "Johnny Is My Homeboy" T-shirts, and even more apologies for those who bought their "Looks Like Jesus, Acts Like Judas, Throws Like Mary" T-shirts Monday night. You're missing the big picture.

The Red Sox are better off without him.

Now think about it again -- Johnny Damon, New York Yankee. You have to admit, that doesn't look nearly as awful as it did in December. And watching Damon take the field wasn't like watching the Rocket in the Canyon of Heroes in '99. This wasn't Wade Boggs on the horse in '96.

Remember this, citizens: As of right now, we have the last laugh, and the last ring.

Now, if Big Papi or Manny ever left … you know what, let's not even think about it.
-- Mike Philbrick

MESSAGE FROM NEW YORK, NEW YORK
I love the New York Yankees.

But I hate Johnny Damon.

How is that possible? How can you hate one of your favorite team's best players? Your leadoff hitter? Your starting center fielder?

You can if you were sitting in Yankee Stadium on Oct. 20, 2004.

That night, in my seat in the upper deck, I experienced the lowest moment in my life as a sports fan. And I hold Damon primarily responsible. (Kevin Brown is a close second.) When he launched that second-inning grand slam to give the Red Sox a 6-0 lead, I knew the Yankees were about to complete the biggest collapse in postseason history.

I still don't think I'm completely over that game, or that series. The pain was too intense. I'm no bandwagon Yankees fan. I've rooted for them all my life, even though when I was growing up there wasn't much to get excited about except Don Mattingly at-bats. To me, the Red Sox are the enemy. And Johnny Damon is the face of the enemy.

Johnny Damon
Elise Amendola/AP Photo
It's going to take most Yankee fans a while to get used to Damon in this uniform.

When I heard the news that the Yankees had signed the face of the enemy, I literally felt sick to my stomach. And in the first month of this season, I've tried to forget who's penciled in at the top of the Yankees lineup every day. But on Monday, it was impossible to forget.

In the newspapers … on sports talk radio … on ESPNEWS, and the Yankees' batting practice show (still can't believe they're now televising batting practice), and the regular pregame show, everyone was speculating about how Boston fans would treat Damon in his first game back at Fenway. Lots of people predicted he'd at least get a decent amount of applause before his first at-bat, maybe even one standing ovation.

I thought so, too. I know Red Sox fans are extremely upset that he left, especially for the Yankees. I've heard all about the Judas T-shirts. But after everything he did for that franchise -- being one of the main reasons they won their first World Series in 86 years -- I thought he'd get at least that. As much as it would have hurt me to see Mattingly appear in a Red Sox uniform, I would have given him one standing O for his first at-bat.

I should have listened to my fellow Page 2 editor, Mike Philbrick. Mike, a die-hard Red Sox fan, assured me that Damon would be treated cruelly. And sure enough, when he walked out to home plate to start the game, the boos cascaded down, drowning out the mild applause from a small group of fans.

And as I watched Damon get booed throughout the game … and him awkwardly acknowledge the crowd a couple times with his hat … and the money thrown by the crowd that lay scattered on the warning track … and the chant of "John-ny, John-ny" after the Red Sox took a 7-3 lead in the eighth, something happened in me that I didn't think was possible.

I actually felt a little bad for Johnny Damon.

Now, the feeling didn't last long -- just a fleeting moment. But it was something. And when I saw those dollar bills lying on the ground behind Damon in center field, I couldn't help but think: How many of those fans would actually give up $12 million? And if they cared so much about Damon, why aren't they chastising the team's front office for not ponying up the extra cash to keep him? You know he would have stayed if the Sox had matched the Yankees' offer.

I did not want to see Damon in pinstripes. Just like I did not want to see Roger Clemens in pinstripes. But over time, I came to admire Clemens' effort and performance, and rooted for him as much as I could for a former Red Sox player.

I never detested Clemens as much as I detested Damon. Clemens never broke my heart in Game 7 of an ALCS. But maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to pull for Damon one day. After all, if Boston fans treat him this badly, I'm naturally inclined to be nice.

So, Red Sox fans? Thank you.

And Johnny? Hey, it's a start.

Oh, and by the way -- nice haircut.
-- Kieran Darcy

Mike Philbrick and Kieran Darcy are editors for Page 2. You can reach them at michael.w.philbrick@espn3.com, and kieran.d.darcy@espn3.com.




Mike
Philbrick
and
Kieran
Darcy
A SORT OF HOMECOMING