As Red Sox fans, we loved Johnny Damon when he grew his hair out, looked like a cave man, used endearing and self-deprecating humor to refer to himself and his teammates as lovable “idiots” and — most importantly — helped Boston win its first World Series title in 86 years in 2004.
Then we labeled him a traitor and despised him when he cut his hair and signed a four-year contract two years later to play for the clean-cut arch-rival New York Yankees.
But by the time Damon’s career was petering out with one-year stops in Detroit, Tampa Bay and Cleveland, we Red Sox fans mostly softened up on him, remembering the good times in Boston and largely understanding his reasons for — if not totally forgiving him for — joining the Evil Empire.
Johnny came back to Boston this year as part of the celebration of the 10-year anniversary of that 2004 World Series championship, and was warmly received.
That’s the reception I expect him to get in two months when he comes to Portland, where the Red Sox’ Double-A affiliate the Portland Sea Dogs are located, and where he’ll headline the team’s annual Hot Stove Dinner and Silent Auction.
The yearly dinner, which often boasts celebrity appearances, benefits the Strike Out Cancer in Kids Program, which has raised more than $4 million since it was created 20 years ago.
Over his 18-year Major League Baseball career, Damon put up borderline hall-of-fame numbers, with a career .284 batting average, 235 home runs, 408 stolen bases and 1,139 runs batted in. He was a two-time all-star in Boston, where he’ll always be best known for hitting a grand slam in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series to propel the Red Sox to victory over the Yankees and on to what would become their first World Series title since 1918.
While Damon was productive during a previous six years with the Kansas City Royals and remained strong in his four years with New York, I feel like he’ll always be best remembered as a fun-loving part of that Red Sox team that finally overcame the so-called Curse of the Bambino and won the championship.
Portland’s Hot Stove Dinner and Silent Auction will take place on Friday, Jan. 16, at 5:30 p.m. at the Sable Oaks Marriott in South Portland. Only 300 tickets are available, and are selling for $50 apiece through the Hadlock Field Ticket Office, by phone at 879-9500 or www.seadogs.com.
Everyone who attends the dinner will receive an autographed photograph of Johnny Damon.
For those of you in other parts of the state, Damon will be appearing at the Gracie Theatre at Husson University in Bangor the previous night — Thursday, Jan. 15. That event begins at 7 p.m. with general admission tickets going for $35 and VIP tickets, which allow for a 5:30 p.m. entry and meeting with Johnny, going for $86. Click here to get to a ticket page for the Husson event.
Now, let’s remember some of the good times: