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Damon should be appreciated no matter what uniform he wears

Wonder if they'll boo Johnny Damon when he comes to bat with his new team in Yankee Stadium?

I hope not. Fans in my hometown of Boston have been booing Damon for four years and it's ridiculous.

Damon was a big part of the Red Sox World Series championship season in 2004, just as he was a big part of the Yankees' return to the top last October.

He is, in every sense of the word, a professional baseball player. He comes to your town, plays his ass off and helps you win games. Teammates and managers love the guy. Damon's good to fans and never dodges the media.

When his contract is up, he goes where the money is, like any Scott Boras client.

Damon is 36 years old, can't throw (never could), and his 2009 stats (.282, 24 homers, 82 RBI) were artificially inflated by the dimensions and wind currents at the new Yankee Stadium. He wanted a two-year contract in the neighborhood of $20 million and the Yankees didn't think he was worth that kind of dough, opting to sign Nick Johnson for one year at $5.5 million. (While it's true Damon could still re-sign with the Yankees it seems unlikely given the way things ended last week.)

Damon might have a tough time getting his price in the 2009 market.

Fine. But Yankee fans should be elated with the return they received on Damon's $52 million four-year deal with the Bronx Bombers. And they should applaud him madly whenever he returns to Yankee Stadium. In any uniform.

Damon was an ideal No. 2 batter, hitting behind Derek Jeter. His nine-pitch at-bat against Brad Lidge in the fourth game of the World Series should be canonized in Yankee lore.

The game was tied 4-4 when Damon came up with two out and nobody aboard in the top of the ninth. He fell behind 1-2, then made Lidge throw five more pitches (two balls, three fouls) before cracking a single to center.

It got better after that when Damon stole two bases on one pitch.

Mindful that the Phillies were leaving third base uncovered while they shifted on Mark Teixeira, Damon broke for second base. Beating the throw, safe as second, he popped up and took third, easily outrunning Phils' third baseman Pedro Feliz, who had taken the throw at second.

Standing on third, Damon knew he had taken the slider away from Lidge. Too much risk of a wild pitch. Alex Rodriguez came up, saw fastballs, and drilled one for a go-ahead double. The Yankees won, 7-4, thanks for Damon's amazing baseball instincts. And that is why Yankee fans should be forever grateful.

Same in Boston. Damon gave the Sox everything he had. He could have been killed when he collided with infielder Damien Jackson in a frightful head-to-head moment in the clinch game of the 2003 American League Division Series.

He stopped cutting his hair after the crash which gave the Red Sox a Jesus Action Figure in centerfield for the memorable curse-busting season of 2004. When the Sox completed their historic comeback-from-3-0 in the ALCS with the Yankees, it was Damon's second-inning grand slam which drove the final stake through the heart of the Yankees. It was one of two homers Damon hit in the game.

The '04 Sox were a motley collection of gypsies tramps and thieves with long hair and attitude. They had Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Bronson Arroyo, Kevin Millar, Derek Lowe and Curt Schilling. They drank Jack Daniels before playoff games and delivered Boston its first World Series title in 86 years.

"We're just a bunch of idiots,'' said Damon.

Damon's contract with Boston expired after the 2005 season and when he signed with the Yankees, Red Sox Nation went ballistic. He became Traitor Johnny. T-shirts were printed with his image and the words, "Looks like Jesus, throws like Mary, acts like Judas.''

Fenway fans have booed him ever since. Just because he signed with the Yankees.

It makes no sense. The most romantic fan has to know that baseball is a business. Players who get sentimental generally pay a price for their generosity. Case in point: Mike Lowell. On the heels of winning the 2007 World Series MVP Award Lowell signed a three-year contract with the Red Sox when he could have inked a four-year pact with the Phillies.

Boston tried to trade Lowell last winter and this year botched a deal with the Rangers when Lowell showed up in Texas and failed his physical. Lowell has plenty of money but his loyalty has not been rewarded.

Damon served the Red Sox well. Then he went to New York and did the same thing. He has only nice things to say about the Yankees, just as he always had only nice things to say about the Red Sox.

Fans need to do the same thing. Look at the championship banner and say, "thank you."

Johnny Damon delivers, then he moves on. It's not personal.

It's the business of baseball.

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