FORT MYERS, Fla. -- "Bless you," Johnny Damon said yesterday as he entered the Red Sox clubhouse. "Bless you all."
Heads turned as Damon, fully bearded, with his brown hair flowing to his shoulders, submitted one of the best impersonations of Jesus of Nazareth this side of "The Passion of the Christ." But no one knelt before him.
This was just Damon after all, as colorful and unconventional as ever. Good thing he doesn't work for George Steinbrenner, who would promptly dispatch him to the barber.
"[General manager] Theo [Epstein] told me I can keep it," Damon said of his look, one of the wildest in the game. "I don't think we want to compare ourselves to the Yankees. We'll do everything the opposite of what they do."
Damon's zany look may seem as if he never recovered from the serious concussion he suffered in Game 5 of the American League Division Series in Oakland. But the fact is, the aftereffects of his collision with Damian Jackson dogged him for weeks. He said he experienced daily migraine headaches until early December. In addition, he said, his left arm was "torn up" by an intravenous line a paramedic inserted before he reached the hospital in Oakland.
"It was pretty devastating," said Damon, who played five games in the AL Championship Series against the Yankees despite the injury, batting .200 (4 for 20), knocking in one run, and scoring only one. "I don't know how I put on a uniform. The migraines were awful. My arm was in such bad shape from the IV that I couldn't swing a bat."
Damon said he rested much of the winter and gained 15 pounds, going from 205 to 220. But he expressed no concern about the extra weight affecting his foot speed. Indeed, he claimed he tested himself against cars late at night down his street in Orlando, where the speed limit is 25 miles per hour.
"I'll wait on the side of the street and when a car starts coming, I'll race it to my house," he said. "So I know I can go at least 25 [m.p.h.]. Sometimes I scare them because they see this caveman running along."
The Sox would like to see Damon run around the bases even more than last year, when he hit .273, stole 30 bases, and scored 103 runs. He acknowledged the team is considering moving him out of the leadoff spot, with Pokey Reese one of the candidates to replace him. He suggested he could find himself batting second, a move he does not fully endorse.
"I feel like I'm the leadoff hitter this team needs," he said, "but if I have to move, so be it."
Even though Damon logged one of the lowest on-base percentages among Sox regulars last year (.345), he said he contributes by seeing so many pitches that he helps wear down opposing starters. He saw 2,850 pitches last year, second in the league to Jason Giambi (2,916).
"We beat up on pitchers, and that's my job in the leadoff spot," he said. "I know I could hit for a higher average, but how the rest of the team would adjust, I don't know."
The Sox, meanwhile, are adjusting to his new look. Manager Terry Francona said: "It looks like he's starring in that movie, but I don't care what he looks like as long as he gets on base."
Not a total wash
Unrelenting rain washed out the first full-squad workout, forcing all 51 players to hit and throw in the indoor cages or focus on their conditioning in the exercise room. "Whatever Mother Nature gave us, we took," Francona said, calling the lost time on the field "no big deal."
The new manager addressed the team for the first time in a closed-door session before the revised workout, setting some preliminary rules and expectations. "It wasn't a Knute Rockne, let's run through the wall [speech]," he said.
Team president Larry Lucchino and Epstein also made introductory comments during the session, in which Kevin Millar lightened things up by sneaking up on Nomar Garciaparra and throwing his arm around the shortstop, drawing a laugh from Garciaparra. The gesture provided further evidence that the two have patched things up since Millar's comments on ESPN about the possible trade for Alex Rodriguez.
The Sox invested $10 million over the next two years in Byung Hyun Kim because they expect him to serve as a consistent starter, pitching 200 innings or more. That could be a challenge for Kim, who last year pitched a career-high 140 innings, in stints with the Diamondbacks (43 innings), their Triple A affiliate in Tucson (17 2/3 innings), and the Sox (79 1/3 innings) before he shut down with shoulder woes in late September.
Can he do it? "I can't guarantee anything, but I'll pitch as much as I can," Kim told reporters through assistant trainer and translator Chang Lee.
The two worked out at Boston College for two weeks before spring training, though Kim said he did not alter his offseason regimen to prepare for the increased workload. He also stressed that he is not setting his expectations unusually high. Told that Curt Schilling said he was capable of winning 20 games, Kim said, "If I can win 20 wins, Schilling could probably win 30."
Kim also explained an incident over the winter in his native South Korea in which he was charged with assaulting a news photographer. He said a number of photographers refused to heed his request to not photograph him.
"They kept doing what I asked not to do," he said, "so I just exploded."
He settled the incident out of court for about $1,500, covering the cost of the camera he damaged.