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Letter to My Younger Self

Oct 4 2018
Photo by
Anthony J Causi/Icon Sportswire
Photo by
Anthony J Causi/Icon Sportswire
Johnny Damon
Retired MLB Player
Oct 4 2018

Little Johnny,

Stop.

Stop running in circles for a moment. I know you’re probably on Lap 300 running around your house while waiting for your older brother to get home from school. And I know you can’t help it because you have this bundle of energy inside of you that never runs out.

But right now I need you to do a couple of things that are really hard for you as a kid: Sit down and pay attention.

This is important.

In 2004, you’re going to find yourself on a duck boat.

Courtesy of the Damon Family

A duck boat is huge bus thing that drives on land but can also go in the water. It’s a great mode of transportation, Johnny. You’ll love it. But that’s not why I’m bringing it up right now. It’ll be a crisp autumn day and you’re going to be surrounded by about a million Red Sox fans who are all absolutely losing their minds. You’ll want to enjoy the moment as much as possible, but the thing is, you’re going to consume a ton of, uh, beverages on this boat and to your horror will only discover that there is no bathroom on board when you really, really have to pee.

So, stay with me, before you get on that duck boat, try to find one of those cans that tennis balls come in. In a pinch, it’ll work out much better for you than attempting to go in a water bottle.

It’s really your only hope.

Oh, also, during the ALCS that year, you might be talked into a stealing pumpkins from a patch that’s near your hotel. It’ll be your wife’s idea — she’s an amazing, horrible influence. Of course, you’ll end up going back to your room to toss the pumpkins off the balcony, as one does.

You’ll get caught by hotel security, but it’ll be hilarious.

I don’t want to mess with history, so definitely still steal the pumpkin, but maybe try to convince her to go for one of the smaller ones. Tossing a 20-pound monster pumpkin off the side of a hotel during one of the most important baseball series of your life isn’t necessary, no matter how tempting it is to go as big as possible in every aspect of your life.

So to recap, please remember: Duck boats don’t have bathrooms. Not in 2004. We won’t be ready for that yet. Find a tennis ball can. And also a smaller a pumpkin.

And yeah, that’s all I got for you.

Courtesy of the Damon Family

O.K., just kidding, there’s a little more.

Like I was saying, that spark you feel inside you, that energy you can’t seem to describe that’s making you want to constantly play and move and just be alive — this is your gift. It’s what’s going to distinguish you as an athlete.

Right now you might be hung up on the things you struggle with. I know you’re scared to even speak out loud a lot of the time because of your stutter. You’ll always have a million things racing through your mind and want to say all of them at once, which causes you to stumble on your words. But don’t pay attention to the kids who make fun of you. I know it hurts, but it’s only temporary. So even though you struggle to express yourself through words, know that you’re always going to have another way to express yourself that comes much more naturally: baseball.

Throughout your childhood, you’ll be able to do things athletically that others around you just can’t. You’ll compete against kids four or five years older than you and be the best player on the field. By the time you get to high school, you’ll be considered the best baseball player in the country, right ahead of some shortstop from Michigan named Derek Jeter. That’s a name worth remembering for later.

But what I want you to understand right now is that just being athletic isn’t going to be enough for the things you’ll want to accomplish. You’ll also need to be kind, and patient, but more than anything else, you’ll need a work ethic. You can have all the talent in the world, but without that, you won’t reach your full potential.  

So the best advice I have for you is to keep an eye on Mom. Really watch closely how she operates.

The days you spend following her from job to job — first cleaning at a hotel, then at an office building, then at a random home — are going to be long and difficult. She’s an immigrant from Thailand who has had to work for everything she’s ever gotten, and because of that she’s the greatest role model you’ll ever have. Cooking and cleaning aren’t what you want to do, but that hard work is good for you. It’s going to help you develop a level of self-discipline that’s going to be really important down the road. You’re really lucky to have such a great mom to learn from.

Oh, also, you should know this already, but cut it out with the matches.

If you burn the house down — and it’ll be a close call on at least a couple occasions — your parents will kill you, and then you’ll never be drafted by the Kansas City Royals.

That’s right, George Brett’s team.

Do I have your attention now?

Chuck Solomon/SI/Getty Images

You’re going to discover a knack for buying baseball cards and flipping them for a profit. It certainly beats your other hustle selling sunglasses at SeaWorld in Orlando.

But George Brett’s Topps 1975 rookie card? Nope. That one’s not going anywhere. George is your guy. A hustle player who can hit every kind of pitch.

So of course you’ll just about lose your mind with excitement when the Kansas City Royals pick you in the MLB draft out of high school. It’s hard to imagine anything better than getting the chance to play for your favorite team growing up. It’ll feel like you’ve reached the peak — what could be better?

But Johnny, what you’re going to learn is that losing sucks.

And, man, your first five seasons in the majors, you’re going to lose games in some remarkable ways. You’re even going to be part of the first team in baseball history with more blown saves than successful saves. I know that sounds bad, but living through it will be unbearable. Losing suuuuucks.

And over the course of five years, even though you’ll develop all of the skills you need to be one of the best players in the game, that constant losing will eat at you.

But that frustration and sense of failure you feel? It’s important. In a weird way, it’s actually good for you. This is a majority failure sport. Nobody succeeds at the plate more than they fail. Your best swing can turn into an out and your worst swing into a double. So even when you lose, if you keep the right mindset, you’ll never be defeated. You’re always going to remember the feeling of losing during those early years, and it’s going to make your desire to succeed that much stronger.

In order to win, you’ll need to move across the country. You’ll need to learn new habits. And you’ll need to meet Jason Giambi out in Oakland.

Man, there aren’t a ton of things I can tell you about him that are kid-appropriate. Let’s just say he’s a fascinating character who makes interesting life choices. You’re going to hear over and over that there are specific things you need to do in order to become a winner, but that’s not true. There are a bunch of different ways to win at baseball and at life. The biggest thing is discovering the way that works for you. And Jason Giambi’s approach to winning is what will work for you.

That approach means having fun. It means hitting golf balls into Mount Davis before games. Driving remote control cars 60 mph over bullpen mounds to see how much air you can get. And of course crashing $500 remote control airplanes right after taking them out of the package. (You’re going to be blowing a lot of money on electronic toys during this period of your life, but it’ll be worth it.)

Your best incentive for winning will be the good times that come with it. Your stay in Oakland won’t be long, but it’s going to change your entire approach to the game. You’re going to learn how to win, but more than that, you’re going to discover how to show other people how to win.

And that’s going to come in handy when you sign with the Red Sox.

Mark Goldman /Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

You think you get it.

You grew up watching Florida and Florida State play, so you figure you know what a rivalry is — what it means for two fanbases to despise each other.

But Johnny, you have no freaking idea what a rivalry is.

Not until you’re part of a series between the Red Sox and Yankees. You’re going to experience players yelling at each other between innings, fans fighting in the stands  — and that’s just the spring training games.

But before I get to that, I need to tell you about your first game with the Red Sox in 2002, because it will end up being really important — and not because of anything that happens on the field.

After that first game, you’ll want to go out for some drinks with your new teammates. But pretty much every guy on the team will come up with some lame excuse why they can’t join you. They’ll give you the, Aw shucks, I can’t make it tonight because blah blah blah.

When you do manage to scrounge together a couple of teammates to join you, people won’t be happy to see you out so much as surprised. You’ll show up to a bar and the bouncer will look at your ID and kind of do a double take. Then he’ll say, “Oh you’re on the Red Sox right? I never see Boston players out together.”

And you’ll say, “Well, times are gonna change.”

From that point on, you’re going to need to put it on yourself to bring some fun to Boston. Not just because fun is, well, fun. But because, just like you learned from Jason, you need to have fun in order for the wins to come. Creating that association between winning and fun in Boston is going to change your life. It’ll change a lot of lives actually.

And, oh my goodness, Johnny, it is hard to properly describe just how fun this period of your life will be.

For starters, you’ll be the king of pranks.

If you ever have a chance to tie someone’s shoelaces together, do it. If you feel like walking around the clubhouse naked, do that too. I mean, your teammates will definitely be a little caught off guard, but there’s something about unexpectedly seeing a teammate naked before a game that gets your mind right for some reason. Not sure what it is, guess it’s just science. And the looser you and your teammates are, the better you’ll play.

Sometimes you’ll get out of the tub two minutes before you’re supposed to be on the field, and everyone in the clubhouse will be like, “Where the hell is Johnny? Is Johnny even playing today? He’s in the lineup.” But while they’re thinking about how ridiculous you are, they won’t be worrying about the pitcher they’ll be facing that day or how important it is to win that game. And, sure enough, they’ll always have a laugh when you emerge out of the dugout fully dressed seconds before everyone takes the field.

Eventually, you’ll grow out a beard (which will make some people think you look like a caveman), meet a couple of guys named Manny and Papi and be part of one of the greatest teams in baseball history. I won’t tell you exactly how all that unfolds — if I did, you probably wouldn’t even believe me — but what I will say is that when your team is down 3–0 to the Yankees in the ALCS, don’t try to change the approach that got your team to that point. Don’t play scared and worry about failure. Instead, even as fans and the media around you panic, keep joking around in the clubhouse. Keep laughing, keep playing pranks — even when it seems like the odds against you guys coming back seem insurmountable and the embarrassment of losing will be impossible to recover from.

Because the only way you’ll end up losing this series is if you’re scared of losing.

And somehow, some way, your group of absolute goofballs are going to write history together. You’re going to accomplish something you’ll always be remembered for.

Then, cue the duck boats.

Brad Mangin/MLB Photos/Getty Images

Not long after that, you’re going to have a choice to make. A really difficult one.

Your heart will be in Boston — in some ways, it always will be, even long after your playing days are over.

But this is a business. Your best offer in free agency will come from, of all teams, the Yankees. You’ll try your best to persuade the Red Sox to match New York’s offer, but they’ll decide against it. I won’t lie, that’s going to hurt — not just you but also a lot of fans with whom you shared a really special time in your life. Some people will call you a traitor and hate you for switching sides. But ultimately, the move will light a different kind of fire inside of you. For the rest of your career, you’ll be driven to prove that Boston made a mistake by giving up on you.

Life with the Yankees, it will be different. It won’t be a place where you need to loosen guys up or play pranks in order to build a winning culture. There will be guys who have already been there a long time before you — guys who have taken care of the winning culture. Especially that Derek guy from Michigan, he’s actually going to turn out to be a pretty good player. Won’t be ranked ahead of you coming out of high school, but still, pretty good.

But the caveman look, it will have to go. It won’t fly under Mr. Steinbrenner.

You’ll have some great times in New York. You’ll have the rare experience of being on both sides of that great rivalry with the Red Sox, and my best advice for you is to just drink it in. Enjoy every cheer and every boo, enjoy just being part of this thing so much bigger than yourself. Because one day it’ll be done, and when it is, you’ll remember these times as the best in your life.

Before I let you run, just remember to keep living with joy in your heart. As long as you have fun in everything you do, honestly, there is no losing.

So keep plugging away, kid. And don’t stop running until you catch your dreams.

-Johnny

Johnny Damon
Retired MLB Player