During his 18 MLB seasons, Johnny Damon was easy to like. He wasn't blessed with power or a strong arm, but Damon found his role as a contact-hitting, speedy center fielder. He won the World Series with the Red Sox and Yankees.
Last month, four years after retiring, Damon ruffled the feathers of many fans and former teammates. A day after former Yankee Paul O'Neill showed up at a Trump rally, the New York Daily News asked Damon for his thoughts on the GOP candidate.
"I want (Trump) for president," Damon said, per a March 10 New York Daily News story. "I'm a Trump fan ever since I met him seven or eight years ago. Everything he does, he does first-class -- his hotels, his businesses, his golf courses. The issues all the other politicians failed to discuss, (Trump) is bringing us up to speed."
In the article, Damon also commented on Trump's immigration policy, the GOP candidate's stand against terrorism and accusations of Trump being a racist. "If (Trump) needs me anywhere, I'll be there. He's a good friend," Damon added.
Boston.com noted Damon's endorsement added to a "painful election season for liberal Boston sports fans." The New York Daily News panned Damon and O'Neill with a front-page headline of "Boys of Dumber."
Although the Daily News lumped Damon and O'Neill together, perhaps a distinction can be made between their levels of involvement. O'Neill attended a rally where Trump called him out by name. O'Neill responded, prompting cameras to turn their focus on him. Meanwhile Damon has been to no such rallies, nor he has done any campaigning for Trump. He says he simply responded to questions from the Daily News, and now, he is dealing with varied reactions.
"I really didn't feel it was important to make an endorsement," Damon says. "It's just the Daily News, one of their reporters, asked me the question, and I always answer things honestly. There was no secret I'm a Trump supporter. I have been. That's why I did the Celebrity Apprentice. There's no secret about it. I'm not out pushing anyone's beliefs. The Daily News thinks they can control who you should like and who you shouldn't like. I feel like we live in America for a reason. If I like Trump, so be it. Other people like other people. I'm not going to change anybody's mind."
He was a contestant on The Celebrity Apprentice 7, the program's 14th season. Damon finished fifth in the season, won by Leeza Gibbons. He raised $40,000 for The Johnny Damon Foundation.
"Not too much time," Damon says when asked about how often he has been around Trump over the years. "He's a busy man. I got to spend a little bit with his family [one] New Year's Eve. We're close. We're friends. Hopefully, he tries to put the views of people up front and tries to let people understand what our country's going through and we'll see what happens."
Damon won a World Series in 2009, his final year with the Yankees. With Game 4 tied in the ninth inning, Damon recorded a two-out single off Phillies closer Brad Lidge. He proceeded to steal two bases on one play, capitalizing on a defensive shift in place against Mark Teixeira. One hitter later, Alex Rodriguez knocked Damon in. The Yankees won the game and the series in six games.
"If you don't win a championship here, things are tough," Damon says. "I realized myself that my four years of being a Yankee was actually worth leaving Boston for. You want to go somewhere you're wanted and you always want to win, so that moment proved to be huge in the World Series. I earned my pinstripes."
In four years with the Red Sox, Damon made two All-Star Games and won the 2004 World Series. A fan favorite in Boston, Damon left after the 2005 season for a four-year, $52 million contract in the Bronx. But as is the case with his presidential comments, Damon assures his fans there is more than what is on the surface.
"What a lot of people don't know is that I was actually the fourth member of the 2004 World Series team to join the Yankee," Damon says. "Everybody thinks I was the first person who did it, but I followed Mark Bellhorn, Mike Myers [and Alan Embree]."
For this reason, Damon does not have any hard feelings for the Red Sox, who went on to win the World Series in 2007, or their fans.
"I gave them my all and did my best to continue to stay there, but the business side of it, you get Coco Crisp for a lesser price and then you're able to bring Jacoby Ellsbury up into the fold and he doesn't have to be a superstar from day one, so he's got to mix in," Damon says of the Red Sox, who won a World Series in 2007. "Things happen for a reason. That's why you continually see center fielders become free agents every year. Everybody's looking for center fielders and leadoff men."
Damon, who lives in Florida, was back in New York for Opening Day. Damon and SNL featured player Pete Davidson rode around the city on a Pepsi bus and challenged Yankee fans on the street to "earn their pinstripes." A handful of lucky fans got to ride the bus to Opening Day with the baseball player and comedian.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.