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Batting around with Michelle Mangan

Life as Mrs. Johnny Damon has been one wild ride. Just ask her.

In this Red Sox-rabid town, even the wives of the players are celebrities. And no one has been in the media glare more this year than Johnny Damon's wife, Michelle Mangan. Nothing seems off-limits as far as she is concerned: the size of her yellow diamond (8 carats), her alleged spat with Shonda Schilling (''it kind of [stinks] that people make up stuff like that"), the allegations that she broke up Damon's first marriage (''he was already out and dating").

And about those rumors that she once worked as a stripper, she says she and Damon are pursuing a retraction by the newspaper that first reported it. ''That made me mad, and Johnny was pretty [upset] about it. He has so many young fans. For them to see that . . . If it were true, I wouldn't care. I'd say it."

Mangan is as outspoken as her husband. His book, ''Idiot," which documented last season's World Series journey, was chock-full of shock, including the fact that he and Mangan heaved water balloons and pumpkins from their 34th-floor condo at the Ritz for fun. Earlier this week, Mangan spoke about her marriage, her work, her charity of choice, and being a stepmother over lunch at Game On! around the corner from Fenway Park. She picked at her steak tips, taking most of them home in a doggie bag. Either she doesn't know or, like her husband, doesn't care that some of her comments are sure to raise eyebrows.

She's a Missouri girl who met a Major League Baseball player she'd never heard of and married him despite her fear of ''the M word," as she puts it. She's even more afraid of having children. ''I'm scared, but he's been telling the whole world he's planning on knocking me up in February; that's the term he uses," she says. ''That's the time of year he wants because it would be born in the off-season and he definitely wants to be there and be part of it.

''I'm chicken. I'm scared about it changing your life. I can pick up and go anywhere now." She pauses. ''And then there's the pain involved." So does she or doesn't she want a baby? ''Just one would be fine. But I wouldn't be terribly upset if it didn't happen."

She's content to be stepmother to Damon's 6-year-old twins, Madelyn and Jaxson, who live with their mother in Orlando, Fla. In the off-season, the children are with the couple every weekend and sometimes during the week. Whipping out her cellphone, Mangan calls up digital pictures of the twins, noting that Madelyn looks just like her father. ''He's an awesome father; nothing phases him. But they're good kids, too."

She met Damon in a Houston restaurant in 2002. She was office director for a talent scouting company in the city, and he was a newcomer to the Red Sox. In his book, Damon wrote that for him, it was love at first sight. For her, it took a little longer. ''He was wearing all black and he had very, very short hair," says Mangan, who is 30. ''I've always been attracted to more exotic, dark-haired, tanned men." She adds: ''But I definitely thought he was cute."

Damon was not a household name at the time; when Mangan invited him to an event at a club, he and his baseball buddies could not get past the bouncer. ''They didn't have the right clothes on and their shoes were bad," she says, laughing. ''I had to go outside and get them." Damon's footwear that night? ''Tommy Bahama boat shoes."

Both of them say they did not date until after Damon was separated, though his ex-wife has called Mangan a ''home-wrecker." He told Mangan right away he was separated, with two children, she says. ''I was thinking, I don't want to get involved with someone with an ex-wife and kids." But when she was transferred to Miami by her company, they began to see each other regularly and were married last December.

''I did not break up their marriage," Mangan says. She has never met Damon's ex-wife, Angie, but Mangan thinks they could eventually be friends. ''It would help if she met someone," she adds, meaning a man.

She calls the past year ''the craziest" of her life, with the pennant race and Series, the wedding, the purchase of two houses, his book tour, and her new job as a contributor for the New England Sports Network. Only on her weekly pregame segment, ''In Style With Michelle Damon," does she use her husband's name. Recently, she agreed to be a spokeswoman for the state Department of Social Services Kids' Fund. ''If you touch these kids when they're younger, it affects their whole lives," she says.

Mangan's business passion is real estate. She bought her first house at age 19, with money she made working at Kraft Foods, where her father spent his career. She and Damon recently formed their own company, J and M Investments. ''I go out and find the properties, and he puts the money down," she says.

Recently, she found a lot on the river in Fort Myers, Fla., with an asking price of $1.3 million. ''Johnny was, 'It cost what?' But we're getting ready to sell it for at least half a million more than we paid for it." She flashes a Colgate smile. ''It's a gold mine, and I'm good at this."

Her own home during the season is a 7,500-square-foot house the couple recently purchased in Brookline, not far from Fenway Park. But they have left it largely untouched in case Damon, who will be a free agent at the end of the season, does not re-sign with the Sox. Her brother spent part of the summer there, overseeing the addition of a pool.

About her husband's future with the team, Mangan says he would love to stay in Boston. ''He would've signed at the beginning of the season, but they didn't want to offer him anything at that time. Johnny definitely wants to get it done quick. He doesn't want to spend the off-season negotiating. He wants to relax."

That would be aboard his 47-foot powerboat, which they plan to take to the Florida Keys in the winter, ''like a floating camper." And at their lakefront home in Orlando, where ''The Last Supper" painting, with Damon depicted as Jesus and the other players as disciples, hangs in their dining room. ''We really don't go out anymore," she says. ''We have the lake, the boat and the pool, a pool table and video arcade. It's much better than going out and drinking. We have people over. Johnny likes to grill."

In Florida, they're also into motocross racing. He has an all-terrain vehicle, she a dirt bike. Even the twins have a dirt bike with training wheels on it, and a small four-wheeler. The couple is also planning a trip to Thailand with Damon's mother, who returns to her homeland regularly.

Mangan and Damon both like Boston -- ''It's a lot prettier than New York," she says -- though there has been talk that he will head to the Yankees should the call come. ''I can't see him in a Yankees uniform," Mangan says. ''The only thing he says is if Boston didn't give him a fair-market value, and what he deserves, and another team comes along, he has to really think about it. This could be his last contract, it could be his retirement, his future, his kids' future. But New York? No. Boston would really have to hurt his feelings."

Her parents have been in town this week, making their first pilgrimage to Fenway. Mangan and Juliana Ramirez, Manny's wife, have seats three rows behind home plate, vacated when Nomar Garciaparra left town. Though she didn't know the difference between RBIs and ERAs before she met Damon, Mangan is now an avid baseball fan and attends all the games, home and away. Her favorite player (besides Johnny)? ''David Ortiz. He's awesome."

As for the nail-biting that is going on in Red Sox Nation right now, Mangan says not to worry. ''It will stay close, but we'll end up taking it."

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