Giambi's arrival at spring training goes smoothly
TAMPA, Fla. -- Jason Giambi quickly had his first signature moment of 2005.
A little more than 2 hours after arriving at spring training Monday, he walked to the outfield end of the New York Yankees' dugout and stepped onto the field.
How was he welcomed after an offseason filled with steroid allegations?
With cheers and outstretched pens.
There were several hundred people in the stands, and the line of fans waiting for his autograph snaked up through 16 rows of blue seats, then turned back toward home plate on the walkway dividing the lower and upper sections of Legends Field.
For 27 minutes, Giambi signed baseballs, pictures and jerseys. Then he went to the other end of the dugout and spent 8 more minutes giving autographs for a line of children.
"We love you Jason!" yelled Nicole Kyle, 13, of Gloucester, R.I.
Dressed in a black T-shirt and blue jeans, Giambi smiled, posed for fan pictures and seemed at ease. It starkly contrasted his appearance at Yankee Stadium on Feb. 10, when he was dressed in a business suit and fidgeted as he repeatedly apologized, without specifically admitting that he had used steroids.
"It's pretty humbling, pretty incredible, to have the support from the fans," Giambi said as he walked back toward the clubhouse. "It's pretty awesome."
After 1½ seasons wrecked by a bad knee, an intestinal parasite, a strained groin, a respiratory infection and a benign tumor, the 2000 AL MVP wants to show he can be a force in the post-steroid era. For the first time, Giambi confirmed the tumor was in his pituitary gland and said the tumor had disappeared following treatment.
"I'm good so far, it's healed, the pituitary," he said. "It's good. I've had no problems with it."
When he walked into the clubhouse, Giambi went down a row of pitchers' lockers and shook hands with Randy Johnson. Giambi decided not to give a group apology.
"What I've started doing is going up to the guys face to face," he said. "To me, that meant more than doing a team meeting or addressing the team."
He apologized again to reporters for not being able to be more open. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in December he told a federal grand jury in 2003 that he had used steroids. Giambi's lawyers have told him not to publicly discuss his testimony.
"It's incredibly humbling," he said. "I understand totally the position they're in. For them to voice their support is pretty incredible."
"He's definitely got it rough," Giambi said. "I'm definitely here for him as a teammate. I know what it's like to be on the rough side."
Former Oakland teammate Mark McGwire called Giambi "to see how I was doing, how I was handling everything." Like Giambi, McGwire was accused by Jose Canseco of using steroids, a charge McGwire has denied.
A big, burly guy, Giambi has been hurt by some of the things written and said about him.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, they have. You try to put them in a different compartment," he said. "I think at the same time, it's motivated me to work out the way I did this offseason, too, to also try to prove everybody wrong."
Yankees manager Joe Torre calls Giambi the "biggest question mark" of spring training. New York will support Giambi but only to a point.
"It's not that you doubt that it's there, you're just wondering with everything he's had to deal with both physically and emotionally, when it's going to come back," Torre said. "Unfortunately, we have a deadline to this. We start spring training, we start playing games the beginning of April, so we have to see where he is by the time we need for him to be there."
Last year, with Giambi batting .208 with 12 homers and 40 RBI, the Yankees made it to the AL championship series and were three outs from winning the pennant before their historic collapse against Boston.
"I know I could have helped. I don't know if that gets us over the top," Giambi said.
He wants to look ahead, not behind. Yankees fans will let him, but only if he hits.
"I think the fans like to help somebody up," Torre said. "He's had some tough things to deal with in this offseason. Then once he gets up and he doesn't produce, then maybe it's a different story. But I think initially the fans want to see him get back on his feet and get himself the opportunity to be who he is, or who he used to be."
He'll be a designated hitter early on, will be told not to tire himself out taking too many grounders.
Will fans see a superstar? Or has what he's done to himself made him flame out?
"Mentally, I feel good that I can be that same player," he said. "It's going to take some time. I'm going to have to break a lot that rust off."
Soon there will be road games in front of hostile fans. Their signs and their shouts are sure to inject reminders of the past he hasn't quite admitted to.
"The fans and people that I've met on the street so far have been good," he said. "I know rough days are coming. But I'm not going to shy away from them."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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