Johnny Damon is fired up about playing for Tigers |

Johnny Damon is fired up about playing for Tigers

AP Sports Writer

LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) – The Detroit Tigers added Johnny Damon for his left-handed bat and veteran presence in the outfield.

They’ve already gotten more than that and the season hasn’t even started yet.

“I never knew that he had such an engaging personality in the clubhouse,” Tigers president and general manager Jim Leyland said this week before the team traveled to Milwaukee for two exhibition games. “He’s a very upbeat person with a vibrant personality that is good for our club.

“We’re a relatively quiet group, so he brings some life along with being a good player that we needed.”

Damon was fired up when he signed an $8 million, one-year contract after the start of spring training, saying Detroit was his No. 1 choice after the New York Yankees didn’t want him back.

Now, he’s even more enthusiastic about being a Tiger.

“I didn’t know how awesome Jim Leyland is and how close knit this group is,” Damon said. “And I think the kids are going to have a great year.”

The 36-year-old Damon liked what he saw during spring training from center fielder Austin Jackson and second baseman Scott Sizemore, both of whom are expected to make their major league debut Monday at Kansas City.

“It’s going to be up to veterans to keep them upbeat when they hit a rough stretch,” Damon said.

Even though Damon is a newcomer, he has quickly become a leader on and off the field for the Tigers.

“He had all of us over to his house down here for a barbecue one night,” catcher Gerald Laird. “He definitely likes to keep things loose off the field, but on it he’s a gamer who has won championships.”

Damon, who has played at least 140 games in each of his last 14 seasons, won a championship with the Yankees last year and helped the Boston Red Sox win the World Series six years ago. The two-time All-Star matched a career high with 24 homers last season and had 82 RBIs – his highest total since 2004 – and hit at least .270 for the eighth year in a row.

But the Yankees weren’t very interested in re-signing him after his $52 million, four-year contract expired and not many other teams were in line to add him.

Atlanta appeared to be interested as did the Chicago White Sox, but neither club was willing to pay him as much as Detroit.

Leyland is thrilled it worked out for the Tigers, whose lineup is filled with right-handed hitters.

“We definitely needed another guy in there,” Leyland said. “I think he’s a perfect fit for us. We were lopsided right handed.

“It’s nice to be able to write that name in the lineup. If that was another kid, all the sudden you have three kids in the lineup. I like to play kids, but that’s a lot when you’re expected to win.”

Damon expects the Tigers to win and promises to have fun.

“I enjoy this game because I know it’s not going to last forever, so I take advantage of that,” he said. “Life is about enjoying it.”