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Former mates hope Damon picks Detroit

Former mates hope Damon picks Detroit

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Phil Coke doesn't have Johnny Damon's phone number. He can't offer to take him out for a round of golf or anything like that. Nor is Austin Jackson going to play a recruiting role for someone he only met in Spring Training a few times.

But for Damon's former Yankees teammates who are now in Tigers uniforms, Damon would look good doing the same.

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"I wish I had his number," Coke said, "because I'd be like, 'Hey, man, quit messing around.'"

A lot of Tigers fans would probably like to tell Damon the same thing. For now, though, the Damon saga rolls on towards week's end, with the Tigers and White Sox the two likely options.

At some point, it has to end. For now, at least, it doesn't seem to be a distraction in a half-filled Tigers clubhouse, though it's easier for it not to be when most of the players who have reported already are pitchers and catchers.

Jackson is one of the exceptions. He has been here all week, having arrived from Texas to pick up his individual workout routine in the final days before full-squad workouts begin next Tuesday.

Most of the time, he works out on his own, doing agility drills and speed work to help him hone his first step in the field. But he also credits Damon with giving him tips the past few Spring Trainings in Yankees camp that he continues to heed today.

"He gave me a few pointers," Jackson said Thursday. "It was mostly him just coming at me as a friend, as a teammate. It was nothing where he sat down and just gave me a lecture or anything like that."

That goes to something Coke mentioned earlier about Damon's qualities as a teammate.

"You have to understand something: When you have an opportunity to play on a championship team, there are a bunch of players around the league that have come together on one team whose careers speak for themselves," Coke told reporters.

"I don't know what your personal opinion is of Johnny, and your opinion might not match mine, because you don't know him like I do. I mean, I love Johnny. He's an amazing person, on and off the field. It doesn't matter where he's at. He's the same guy. He's a great clubhouse guy. He's a great dude to go hang out with, on and off the field. He's an all-around good guy."

Obviously, the Tigers are interested in what Damon brings as a hitter and what he could do for Detroit's offense. There has been discussion that he could serve as a mentor of sorts to Jackson, but that would be secondary.

Coke understands Damon's limitations, but says they reflect his willingness to sacrifice for the team.

"He still moves really good," Coke said. "He has his struggles in the outfield, but that's because he sacrificed himself year after year for the game. I can't tell you I'd want anybody else in the clubhouse except for a guy like that. I've been told that growing up in the game of baseball -- Little League, high school, junior college -- guys that are willing to sacrifice themselves for the game, for the team, those are the guys you want to play with. They don't necessarily have to be the best, but they're going to give you everything they've got, every single day."

As for the situation at hand, Jackson said he isn't really following it.

"I really don't know too much about it, other than things friends might tell me they heard on ESPN or something like that," he said. "I really don't know too much about that situation."

For now, the Tigers are making their plans as if Damon is not coming. However, they have a conspicuously empty locker in the corner of their clubhouse, right next to the doorway to manager Jim Leyland's office, along the corridor where Miguel Cabrera, Ramon Santiago, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen have their lockers.

That doesn't mean it's waiting for Damon; in fact, there's nothing to signify it's going to a player who hasn't joined the team yet. Considering its proximity, it could easily to go Andres Galarraga, who is expected to join camp as an instructor and potentially work with Cabrera. After all, Al Kaline and Willie Horton have lockers on the other side of the doorway.

Leyland, meanwhile, is staying out of it.

"I don't ever anticipate we're going to get somebody," said Leyland, without referring to Damon by name.

For what it's worth, Leyland sounded more committed to giving Jackson a chance to lead off. Leyland said again that he'll use Jackson atop the order to open Spring Training, but he also said that Jackson is the logical choice to lead off if he's going to be a regular player.

"I'd like Jackson to lead off, if I could," Leyland said. "I'm really kind of looking for a [No.] 2 hitter. But I think Jackson -- if he's here, and you're going to play him some -- he's probably got to lead off, as we stand right now. But I don't know that for a fact. We'll find out."

It's entirely possible that if Damon signs with Detroit, he'll be doing so to bat second in the Tigers' order. But he has to sign first.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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