NEW YORK -- Johnny Damon was in the Yankee Stadium interview room talking with New York reporters about his return to the Bronx for the first time since he and the Bronx Bombers parted ways last winter. He ended up saying quite a bit about his future with the Tigers.
Damon reiterated that next year might be his final season before retiring. He said he would very much like it to be with the Tigers. Considering the ups and downs of this season, it was an interesting statement.
"I'm hoping to stay," Damon said. "I'm hoping after this season they want me back to, I feel, be a part of something special. I think that's a big reason why I chose Detroit, because I felt like there was something happening there with a winning ballclub. A championship would mean the world to the fans there, to that economy, to the owner. That's why I felt Detroit was, and is, the best place for me right now."
To that end, Damon indicated no regret over the way things turned out.
"I definitely think everything worked out the best for everybody," Damon said. "Do I wish things would've gone differently? I don't know. I always think things happen for a reason. I knew going into the offseason that I definitely wanted to play two more years. I definitely think there was a lack of communication."
If the Tigers don't get to the playoffs, he said, he hopes the Yankees "do very well."
"I'm not that type of person [to look for vindication]," Damon said. "I've always just tried to go about my business just to be the best ballplayer. I can't dictate what moves they've made. I know all the guys that they brought over to essentially do what I do. They're all great guys, and they've all produced in the big leagues.
"They're doing great. You're still looking at possibly the best infielder of all time over there. You've got some guys who can chase down fly balls. They're getting great production from [Nick] Swisher. They're a very good team and they're going to be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs."
Damon received a lengthy standing ovation Monday night as he was introduced for his first plate appearance. He tipped his batting helmet in appreciation and blew a kiss to the crowd.
"I was hoping for it," Damon said. "I loved playing in New York, and the fans enjoyed my style of play. It was good to hear them cheer for me, although obviously now they would like to make sure I get out."
Damon is eligible for free agency this winter, and there has been some speculation whether he would end the season as a Tiger. Detroit could conceivably try to pass him through waivers in order to set up an August trade, though indications are that the Tigers haven't put him on waivers yet.
Damon signed a one-year, $8 million contract in February after winning a World Series with the Yankees, who briefly had talks on Damon before moving on to other options. Damon had no regrets over that.
"I think they knew that I could still play," Damon said, "but it had to be on their terms. And I feel like when you're a free agent in this game, it's got to be on terms on both sides. I valued myself more than what New York's front office valued me.
"They knew I could still play. Obviously I'm getting up there in age. They obviously started to worry about durability and all that stuff. That's what Boston was worried about with me also. I just keep going out there and playing. That's what's tough."
Damon's addition was expected to be one of the big pieces toward reigniting a dormant offense. He has had an up-and-down season at the plate, batting .278 with 30 doubles, seven home runs, 38 RBIs and 65 runs scored, but he hit a clutch two-run triple Sunday to help fuel Detroit's comeback win over the White Sox.
"My experience in Detroit has been great," Damon said. "I love it there. I feel like the team is an up-and-coming team with a lot of young kids there that definitely need guidance to show them the hopes, and it seems like they've been doing a pretty good job at it."
The Tigers have an interesting offseason on their hands, especially with their outfield. Magglio Ordonez's ankle fracture all but ensures his contract option for 2011 won't vest, making it the Tigers' decision whether to pick it up for $15 million or buy it out for no cost. Austin Jackson is a huge part of the Tigers' future in center field and at leadoff, and Brennan Boesch is an everyday outfielder now.
"This is a new process for me. I'm almost a player-coach," Damon said. "I'm around all the young kids who are almost young enough to be my sons, but it's great. It puts that fire back into you. You enjoy watching these guys grow up. I'm enjoying watching the best hitter in baseball in [Miguel] Cabrera. I'm enjoying watching the best defensive center fielder in the game. That's the stuff you enjoy and you remember for a very long time."
Valverde nears return to action
NEW YORK -- The Tigers were optimistic that they would have Jose Valverde available Monday night against the Yankees, if they could get a save situation for him.
"We're hoping he's going to be OK," manager Jim Leyland said Monday afternoon. "We got a pretty good report today."
Valverde missed the entire weekend series against the White Sox with a deep abdominal strain on his right side. He said Monday afternoon he felt a lot better, though he couldn't say for sure if he would be ready until he went out to play catch.
"I want to be ready to play," Valverde said.
Phil Coke closed out back-to-back wins Saturday and Sunday in Valverde's absence. Leyland said Coke would "hopefully" be available Monday as well. It would mean potentially three straight days of work, but Leyland pointed out that his pitch count Sunday was relatively low.
Heavy bullpen use over the weekend and Valverde's situation prompted Detroit to call up Daniel Schlereth from Triple-A Toledo as an extra reliever.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.