As Jeter hits 3,000, Damon eyes milestone, too

Johnny Damon has his eye on 3,000 hits, too.

With former teammate Derek Jeter now a member of the exclusive

club, Damon said he’s already started to think about his own

chances of reaching one of baseball’s biggest milestones.

Tampa Bay’s designated hitter went into Saturday’s game against

Jeter and the New York Yankees with 2,662 career hits. The

37-year-old Damon realizes he probably needs to last at least two

seasons beyond this one to get to 3,000, but he said people close

to him are encouraging him to play long enough to do it.

”It’s something that I never thought about before, but with me

climbing up on the charts and all that stuff, I’m hearing from

friends and family and former teammates and they’re telling me to

keep going as long as I can,” Damon said.

”Now it’s within sight, 350 away. And hopefully after this

season it’ll be 250 out and it’ll be two more years. And hopefully

in the meantime we can keep winning and I can keep being productive

and help out a young team like this.”

Jeter homered in the third inning, his second hit of the game,

to become the 28th major leaguer to reach the plateau – and first

to do it with the Yankees.

Damon stood outside the Tampa Bay dugout and applauded along

with other Rays players as Jeter saluted the cheering crowd and his

opponents.

”It’d be a great thing to see,” Damon said before the game.

”Derek’s a class act. He’s what a ballplayer should be.”

Damon and Jeter are the same age, and both were drafted out of

high school in 1992. Damon said that’s one reason why Jeter’s

accomplishments mean so much to him.

The two were teammates in New York from 2006-09, helping the

Yankees win the World Series in Damon’s final season with the club.

He played for Detroit last year, then signed a one-year contract

with Tampa Bay in February.

Damon has lost some of his speed, but he’s been extremely

durable throughout his career and he’s still a pest at the plate.

He was hitting .279 with nine home runs and 41 RBIs in his first

season with the Rays.

He thinks 3,000 hits is definitely an attainable goal.

”Oh, no doubt,” he said. ”Might as well, if it’s there.”

Damon was back in Tampa Bay’s lineup Saturday, batting leadoff

in his first game since getting hit on the left hand by a pitch

from Minnesota’s Francisco Liriano on Wednesday.

His hand was still red and sore, but the swelling had gone down

after he applied ice all night. Hours before the game, Damon took

swings in the indoor cage at Yankee Stadium to test his hand and

planned to take a full round of indoor batting practice.

”The strength isn’t quite all there yet,” Damon said. ”The

first couple swings were horrible, but just trying to find a way.

… I want to be in there.”

Damon began the day exactly 100 hits behind injured Yankees

slugger Alex Rodriguez on the career list.