We went inside the mansion into a huge kitchen, which led to a living room the size of a banquet hall in Westeros. There were big flat-screen TVs, a massive bar and barbecue, an arcade room, a wrestling mat, a ping-pong table and a painting that mimicked Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper" — Damon takes the part of Christ, and his Red Sox teammates are the 12 disciples. (In Boston, Damon's teammates and fans used to chant, "WWJDD. What Would Johnny Damon Do?") We went through sliding glass doors outside. His five-acre backyard spread out before us like a fantasy playground or amusement park. Tennis court, volleyball net, basketball court, tree house, rock pool, golf-putting course, jungle gym, tiki hut.
Damon's amusement-park house and backyard is not only for his kids. It's mostly for him. When he charitably let a young teammate and his family live with him until they found their own digs, he said he did it because "now I had someone to play ping-pong with." Just a few days before I arrived, he said, he and a friend had "played volleyball for hours while we drank 60 beers." Not 59 or 61. Sixty. I said that it must be hard to teach his kids about life in the real world, when they have such a fantasy amusement park to play in. He said, "Oh, I make them help me out here. When Michelle and I are out on the deck at night, I make my kids go get our margaritas."
He led me to a wooden walkway, past sea grass and tall cedar trees, out to the deck overlooking one of the Butler Chain of Lakes. It was a beautiful setting to sip a drink at night with his wife, while the moon shimmered off the waters. Mostly, Damon loved it because he could go kayaking, jet-skiing, water skiing and fishing on the lake. I looked at the water and said to Damon, "Are there alligators?" He said yes, but his yard was fenced off, so it was alligator-proof. We stood out on the deck for a few minutes, admiring the view, while Damon texted on his iPhone. When he was finished, we walked back across the wooden walkway, past the sea grass and cedar trees, and emerged into the sunshine of his amusement-park backyard.
Damon said, "This is my lifestyle. I certainly never had anything like this when I was a child. But this is what I always wanted to be. A kid. I always wanted to stay young at heart." He looked at me, with my white hair and white beard, and said, "Nobody wants to grow old." I remembered the movie Big, starring Tom Hanks as a 12-year-old boy who longed to be a grownup. When his wish was granted, and he became a 30-year-old, his life was not so wonderful as he thought it would be. All those adult "real world" problems that never really seem to get resolved. Damon was a grownup who always wanted to be a boy and still does. His wish was granted for 38 years, until two years ago.