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Damon's appeal goes deep in NY

NEW YORK -- Johnny Damon was running about 30 minutes late, but the 500 fans lined up along West 48th Street yesterday didn't care. Clutching copies of ''Idiot: Beating 'The Curse' and Enjoying the Game of Life," the crowd knew the Red Sox center fielder had a full day of radio and TV appearances. ''He's a goof . . . That's what we all love about him," said Maria Gentile, a North End native who's lived in New York for 15 years. As he signed book after book at the Rockefeller Center Barnes & Noble, Damon did his thing, at one point sticking out his tongue a la Mick Jagger, and saying, ''Go Sox!" George Ruiz, 30, who's never lived in New England but nonetheless is a proud member of Red Sox Nation, was the first in line at the bookstore at 7 a.m. ''You wait your whole life for a championship like this, what's a few hours in line?" said Ruiz, who's giving Damon's book to his 6-month-old son, Tyler. ''I'll let him read it when he graduates from college." Jennifer Gardiner, who coordinates book signings for Barnes & Noble, said Damon's event was a little, er, different. ''We don't have events like this," said Gardiner, a Red Sox fan who attended Sunday night's 9-2 season-opening loss to the Yankees. ''I mean, look at these people, they come in here, and they're overwhelmed with emotion just meeting him." That was certainly the case with 11-year-old Casey Moran, whose mom, Jean, let the little girl miss school to meet Damon. ''I can't wait," said Casey, waiting outside on the sidewalk. ''I love the Red Sox, and he's my absolute favorite player. . . . I fall asleep every night watching the World Series DVD." (Asked if, or when, her daughter would be allowed to read the book, which details Damon's womanizing, Casey's mom replied: ''I think we'll have to talk about it.") When she finally did lay eyes on the left-handed leadoff hitter, Casey couldn't utter a word. Instead, she stood quietly and sobbed. ''I can tell you're a huge fan," Damon said sweetly. ''Did you have to travel far today? Do you guys live nearby? It's OK." And he was right. Casey was OK, but it took her awhile to recover.

MEDIA BLITZ Appearing on ''Live With Regis and Kelly" yesterday, Damon was asked again about performance-enhancing drugs. (Ex-wife Angie Vannice said last week that Damon was so full of rage during their marriage, she sometimes wondered if he was on steroids.) ''I never took steroids. When I was age 13, somebody tried to give them to me . . . but luckily, I was big," Damon said, citing the death of football player Lyle Alzado as an example of the dangers of steroids. (He also mentioned the death of the late, great Len Bias, saying ''that's why I never did cocaine.") While at the Barnes & Noble, Damon's wife, Michelle, used the opportunity to shoot a segment for her upcoming gig on NESN.

BOSTON ON 'TODAY' What with Damon, corporate kahuna Jack Welch, and ''Fever Pitch" star Jimmy Fallon all in the green room at the same time, NBC's ''Today" show certainly had a Boston accent yesterday. Welch, the former GE honcho who's out plugging his new book titled -- what else? -- ''Winning," told Katie Couric he has no regrets about his romance with Suzy Wetlaufer. (The two fell in love while Wetlaufer was supposed to be writing a piece about Welch for the Harvard Business Review.) But it was Fallon who really made us squirm. The ''Saturday Night Live" comedian talked about the thrill of filming in Fenway Park and asked Couric if she'd ever been there. Couric, of course, dated Sox co-owner Tom Werner for a few years. After an awkward pause, Couric indicated that yes, she had been there.

OFF SCREEN If Erin Nanstad's in ''Fever Pitch" -- and the credits say she is -- it's not for very long. But that doesn't bother Nanstad, who had her brush with movie stardom with ''Still We Believe." (She and her bleached-blond buddy Jessamy Finet are unforgettable in the baseball movie.) ''My scene got cut and edited from 'Fever Pitch,' but they told me I'll be in the DVD outtakes," Nanstad said. Oh, well. She'll still be at the premiere tomorrow dressed in a something sleek and black. ''They said 'casual and chic' . . . I hope I'm not overdressed." Finet, meanwhile, did make the cut -- and in a big way. She has several lines and logs serious screen time. ''I haven't seen the movie yet," Finet said yesterday. ''I just want to be totally flabbergasted when I see everything. . . . I can't even believe I'm a part of this."

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