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Damon enjoying star turn

After busy offseason, contract talks await

JUPITER, Fla. -- Movies, books, TV shows, photo shoots, union business. There was a lot going on for Johnny Damon this offseason, but not much to do with contract extension talks.

The Red Sox' long-haired center fielder, who is in the final year of his contract, said he and his agent are waiting to hear from the team to begin talks. He finds himself in a similar situation as Jason Varitek, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, and Nomar Garciaparra faced last season. Garciaparra left for Chicago via a trade deadline deal. Lowe and Martinez left as free agents, signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets, respectively.

While Martinez, Lowe, and Garciaparra seemed affected at times last year by their status, Damon believes he'll fall more closely in line with Varitek, who wound up re-signing with the Sox, and not let the uncertainty affect his 2005 season if a deal is not struck.

"I'd like to finish up my career here and get locked up for a long time," Damon said. "I know it's always been Red Sox policy to wait until after the season, but that can get hairy."

Damon knows hairy. He says he doesn't want that to happen.

"No, I don't want us to be at the All-Star break and depending where we are and if our pitchers are healthy and we're right there, I want to stay there. I don't want to be looking over my shoulder at the All-Star break and thinking, `OK, what's going on here.' "

Still, Damon figures he'll manage even without a deal.

"I've been there before," he said. "My team [Oakland] won that year [2001] even though I hit .256 and scored 108 runs. I think I made Frank Menechino, hitting second, better. I think I made Jason Giambi better. I can take it. All I care about is winning."

Damon said trade talks, free agency, and the like have become second nature to him.

"It's been part of my whole career," said Damon. "Every year, I've heard things about trades or whatever. Everybody knows they need a center fielder and a leadoff hitter. I'm in a good spot, me personally, but the Red Sox know that this is the best spot for me personally. So we'll see what happens."

In the meantime, Damon certainly has not shunned the spotlight, feeling the attention is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. On Tuesday night, he did a photo shoot for the upcoming film, "Fever Pitch," starring Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon. He'll also be out and about promoting his book, "Idiot: Beating the Curse and Enjoying the Game of Life," which comes out April 2. He's scheduled to appear on the "Regis and Kelly" show, and he'll be on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" next Monday.

Damon has no idea what the Fab Five have in mind for a makeover, but he felt he didn't need much help.

"They wanted to do [cut] the hair and donate money to charity," Damon said. "Trim the brow. Clean out dirt in the ears . . . You guys have seen me in a suit. They're trying to dress me up. We'll see. I know my wife will be making up things she doesn't like about me because she just married me. So if there are things she doesn't like about me now, we're in trouble."

Of his newfound fame, Damon said, "I've enjoyed it. I'm not going to have this chance in my life again. It's a big moment in my life and I've got to enjoy it. There will come a time when I won't be in the public eye.

"Right now, I think this sport needs me. If you go around to the Little Leagues, you see a lot of kids showing their own personalities. You see them growing longer hair, wearing their socks up. You see them with corn rows. I think it shows kids are having fun with their life and [that it's good to] be yourself.

"The thing I've always played for is a World Series title. Now you never know after baseball. I'd like to win a couple of more World Series and hopefully it'll be right here in Boston. After that I'll think about more TV, movies and whatever."

Damon said the best thing about acting is "they have tape, they can cut you off when you're giving a bad performance." Unlike going 0 for 4, "where they can't tell you let's do it again."

The center fielder's celebrity certainly began to rise last season, between his "look" and his coining the Red Sox "idiots."

"It just kind of evolved," Damon said. "There were times last year -- and I was in a condo -- where it was hard to relax. It was hard to walk around without being recognized. We're in a house now in a gated community so I can go out to my backyard and sit out there and hang out.

"I haven't gone out to eat much lately. In the offseason, I went out maybe five times, spring training, five more times. I'm keeping a low profile. When I'm out, I expect to run into people who want to see me so you have to be prepared. I can't go out and not expect to be recognized.

"I do stay at home a lot. I have a wife who cooks very well. I cook myself -- I'm a very good griller, by the way. On my offdays, I jump on my boat and cruise around the harbor and do that kind of stuff."

As the Sox' player representative for the union, Damon has been part of some discussions on steroids. Damon is not aware of any testing that's been done to Red Sox players.

"I want this to be cleaned up because I don't want my son to ever have to deal with it," he said. "I never dealt with it, but seeing [former NFL player] Lyle Alzado dying of it when I was growing up, I remember being in shock.

"I think they [Congress] just really want to go over the issues and make sure this game is clean, not only for baseball but for the kids coming up."

Yet he knows there will always be suspicions, even of players like himself who claim they never took anything to enhance performance.

"I remember one spring I worked out really hard during the winter and [former Dodgers manager] Tommy Lasorda looked at me and I kind of had an idea of what he might be thinking. The way he was looking at my arms and forearms, telling me I was in great shape.

"I know I've never done anything, but because I get bigger in spring training because I work out harder, I just explode. I came to camp one year at 208 and three days later I was 218. This year, I came in at 211 and I'm at 215 right now. That's just my body. That's the sad part that people look at you and you don't know what they're thinking, even though you're doing things the right way."

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