GOODYEAR, Ariz.: Jason Giambi has been there, done that, even coming to camp without a major-league contract.
That’s the deal he agreed to over the winter, a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to the Indians’ big-league camp.
Giambi doesn’t exactly hide his head in embarrassment at the mention of his lowly status.
“I did it once before with the Rockies,” he said Thursday. “It’s fine with me. At my age, I’ll take what I can get.”
Giambi is 42. He has played 18 years in the big leagues, hit 429 home runs, amassed 1,405 RBI and maintained a batting average of .280. He’s been picked to play in the All-Star Game five times, participated in one World Series with Yankees, who lost, and was selected as the American League’s MVP in 2000.
He also has made a reported $133 million. That’s more than enough to maintain a lifestyle fit for Donald Trump. Or almost. So what is Giambi doing pulling on a uniform and getting ready to sweat his way through yet another spring training?
“I love the game,” he said. “I love going to the ballpark. I love it after the game, evaluating what happened. I had conversations with a few teams, but nothing really substantial.”
So was Giambi resigned to clearing out his locker for the final time?
“I was prepared for that,” he said. “I have a 15-month-old daughter. I finally grew up. But I got this chance, and I jumped at it. Chris [Antonetti] is the guy who put it together. He could see me fitting into a role.”
Players are notorious for not knowing when to quit. Not only do they enjoy their time on the field and hanging with their teammates, but they also like the life. Looking at themselves in the mirror and seeing the reality of a face chiseled with wrinkles staring back is not in the DNA of most big-leaguers.
Giambi thinks he can still hit. Maybe he can. The last time he played every day was 2008 with the Yankees. He batted .247 with 32 homers and 96 RBI. Since then, his at-bats have fallen off precipitously.
The Tribe is hoping that he can fill a role as part-time designated hitter and pinch hitter. Maybe push his at-bats to 250-300 and launch a few balls over the home run porch at Progressive Field.
“He’s not just a veteran guy,” manager Terry Francona said. “He’s the veteran guy. The guy has interviewed for a manager’s job, and I don’t think it’s too far from reality to think he could have gotten it. I truly think it’s an honor to have him in camp. He’s a good teammate; he respects the game, and he wants to win.”
Giambi no longer thinks of himself as a position player or a regular. That in itself is a difficult adjustment for many players.
Asked whether he can still play first base, Giambi said, “I can throw it around a little bit.”
He welcomes the chance to be a DH.
“I’ve been ready for a long time,” Giambi said.
So what is the toughest thing about coming off the bench, especially for a guy past 40?
“You have to find ways to get used to the velocity, so when you get up there it doesn’t look like the pitch is going 5,000 miles an hour,” he said. “And you have to speak up when you need a [break]. That means you have to put your ego in your pocket.”
Not everything in Giambi’s career has come up roses. In 2003, he testified before a grand jury in San Francisco that he had injected himself with human growth hormone and steroids for at least two years.
But the admission went a long way toward keeping Giambi from becoming a pariah to the fans and media. Unlike Barry Bonds and others, Giambi was forgiven rather quickly.
“That was a long time ago,” he said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have testing then.”
Giambi seemed to be saying that he wouldn’t have risked detection if there had been consequences. But all of that is part of what he’s learned and is willing to convey to the next generation of players.
“I love to talk,” Giambi said. “I think that’s how you pass the game on. That’s your gift, to pass the game on. I’ve been on top of the world and I’ve been in the gutter. But if you track the teams I’ve been on and the relationships I’ve had, I think you’ll find ways that I’ve helped them.”
The Indians are counting on it.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.