Damon has wrestling fever

Damon has wrestling fever

TAMPA, Fla. -- The compact right-handed swing might have suggested Johnny Damon is ready to start switch-hitting.

Or, better yet, it possibly signaled that his left shoulder has healed properly.

Either way, when the center fielder made a surprise appearance on TNA's "iMPACT!" wrestling show two weeks ago and belted Dale Torborg with a metal folding chair, it demonstrated that Damon, despite having fully ingratiated himself in the Yankees' business-like culture, is still able to let his hair down during the offseason.

For the uninitiated, Damon became a fan of wrestling when his twin children, Madeline and Jackson, forced him into watching it. Soon, he was hooked.

"My kids love it and they really got me interested in it," said Damon. "It's a lot of fun and I've had a great time with it."

When A.J. Pierzynski, a friend and former schoolmate at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Fla., latched on with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling in December 2005, the fun-loving Damon couldn't resist joining in on the shenanigans.

The White Sox catcher, in keeping with his controversial self, became involved with the racket following Chicago's historic run to the 2005 World Series title. Pierzynski teamed up with Torborg, the White Sox Minor League conditioning coordinator and one-time successful competitor for World Championship Wrestling. The pair won their pay-per-view match and soon became fan favorites, considering Pierzynski's infamous reputation.

Damon also gained a bit of notoriety in the wrestling world as well after he handed Pierzynski a home plate that the catcher used to smash over the head of wrestler Simon Diamond for a 2005 victory.

In this year's work with TNA, Pierzynski donned the black hat again while Damon switched over to the good side. Pierzynski challenged David Eckstein, the 2006 World Series MVP with St. Louis and the latest honoree by TNA, to a duel, accusing Eckstein of trying to steal his thunder on the wrestling circuit. The theatrical feud came to a boil, with the help of Damon, on Feb. 10, when Team Pierzynski was making the announcement on Spike TV's show "iMPACT!" that they would be facing Eckstein and TNA wrestler Lance Hoyt, aptly known as Team Eckstein, in a match-to-end-all-matches on Feb. 11, in Orlando.

With Pierzynski and Torborg verbally berating Eckstein, Hoyt stepped in to voice his displeasure. Torborg immediately jumped in Hoyt's face and started to yell: "You want me? How 'bout you back the ..."

Which is when Damon whacked Torborg with a ferocious swing, knocking the former wrestler to the ground.

"I hit him pretty good," recalled Damon, following Thursday's workout in Tampa. "That was a lot of fun but, hey, I had to take care of Eckstein. They were talking way too much."

Damon stayed on the sidelines, though, during the match in which Pierzynski suffered a humiliating defeat to Eckstein. Team Pierzynski initially won but the referee missed the pinfall by Torborg. Eckstein's brother, Rick, then assisted in the eventual win, using a steel chair on Torborg while the referee was distracted.

Damon, meanwhile, watched the whole thing from the sidelines and admitted his interest was piqued even further. "Hey, you never know," he joked when discussing an appearance in the ring. "It might be coming in the near future."

Damon did more than just wrestle in the offseason.

Damon found time to visit Miami a couple times, once in November as Casey Kahne's guest at the Ford 400 NASCAR race and again during Super Bowl weekend, as the commissioner of the newly-formed Professional Baseball Gaming League (PBGL). The PBGL had its coming-out party with the first gaming finals the Saturday before the game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears.

Damon, whose father was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, is championing the league and its special events to help raise awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project, which is devoted to helping injured soldiers and bringing more attention to the needs of military personnel who are wounded in battle.

But Damon also is excited about growing the league and using it as a catalyst in personalizing Major League players.

"What I have in store is expanding the final tournament so it might be a two-out-of-three type thing," said Damon, who competed against the Hip Hop Gaming League commissioner Snoop Dogg during the Super Bowl. "We want to get it to be fan-friendly as well, and maybe down the road somewhere have fans go up against the players."

It wasn't all work, though, for Damon, who showed up at camp with a noticeable tan.

The center fielder spent two weeks in Akumal, Mexico, a small beach town 62 miles south of Cancun in the heart of the Mayan Riviera. While Damon visited Mayan ruin sites, swung from trees and participated in snorkeling, he also spent a good amount of time resting.

"I needed it," said Damon, who is fully recovered from his broken right foot. "We did a lot of stuff [on vacation] and had a fun time, but I also wanted to chill. I wanted to be ready to go when I got here."

Which is exactly what the Yankees would want to hear.

Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.