- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

TAMPA, Fla. The old pictures show a little boy with big ideas.
"I just remember me as a kid, dragging around this big red bat and begging everybody and anybody to throw to me," Jason Giambi said. "It's all I wanted to be since I was 5 a ballplayer."
He's much more than that now, of course.
Last year, the New York Yankees fell two outs short of winning their fourth straight World Series. Minutes later, George Steinbrenner promised change.
Giambi is the biggest change.
Bringing one of baseball's boldest bats to Broadway was the centerpiece of the transformation. Giambi loves the challenge. He wants to live in the middle of Manhattan, to walk out the door and be a part of it.
"If I'm going to experience it, I'm going to experience it all," he said during the final week of spring training.
Reggie Jackson thrived in the crucible of Yankee Stadium. Dave Winfield never quite took to it. Kenny Rogers crumpled.
There's really no way to prepare for it.
"He's going to be a big star here," Steinbrenner said. "New York is going to gobble him up like chocolate cake."
Every night, players have to live up to it. Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" recording croons them the team mantra, over and over and over:
"King of the hill, top of the heap."
It's hard to imagine more pressure.
"Reggie's talked to him," Yankees manager Joe Torre said Monday. "What I let Jason know, as recently as this morning, is, 'You'll handle it.' Knowing his personality from All-Star games, playing against him and this spring, I don't think he has anything to worry about."
Sitting by his stall against the back wall of the Yankees' spring training clubhouse, wearing a tank top that shows off his bulging tattooed biceps, Giambi seems quite comfortable. He loves the schmoozing that so many other stars avoid.
Step on up, ask anything you want.
Was it hard to leave brother Jeremy in Oakland?
"Sure. I talk to him every day?"
What's hard about joining a new team?
"You always want to come in and fit in."
Why the Yankees?
"It's hard to say no."
After winning the AL MVP award in 2000, he nearly agreed to a $91 million, seven-year extension with the Athletics last March. But Oakland wouldn't offer a no-trade clause, so the deal never got completed. After the Yankees came back from an 0-2 deficit to beat the A's in the first round of the playoff, Oakland gave in on the no-trade, but by then it was too late.
Giambi became a free agent, more prized than Barry Bonds and 152 others, and his telephone didn't stop ringing. Yogi called. Then the Rocket. Then the mayor. Then the manager.
"There was a man out there who broke the home-run record, and they said, 'We want you.' That's pretty flattering,'" Giambi said.
His $120 million, seven-year contract, finalized Dec. 13, ranks him sixth in average salary. He choked up briefly at Yankee Stadium when he was given the pinstripes for the first time. Then he homered in his first spring training at-bat, against Toronto on March 3.
"The guy is amazing," said his brother, Jeremy. "Here he hasn't touched a bat all winter and then the first time he does, he takes three swings and he's locked in."
Jason Giambi increased his batting average in six straight seasons, two short of the record, and in the last three years he's hit at least .315 with 33 homers and 120 RBI.
It's easy to see where the strength of the 31-year-old first baseman comes from: He looks a little like Popeye, with thick veins rippling up and down his arms, or those WWF guys he loves to watch.
Giambi lifts weights before batting practice, then again after games.
In some ways, Giambi resembles Mark McGwire, a teammate during his first three seasons in Oakland. McGwire passed on a wealth of knowledge.
"I kind of got lucky when Mark took me under his wing," Giambi said.
In this era of maximum power, Giambi has learned how to clear the wall.
"He has a short swing," Jackson said. "You can teach it, but you have to have some gifts. Giambi, Bonds, Sosa, A-Rod they were at the front of the line when God was giving out talent."
Eyesight is one of the chief gifts. Giambi says he has 20-13 vision in his right eye, 20-15 in his left.
"I first really noticed it when I was 18 years old," he said.
He's trained his eyes on what to do from the moment he leaves the dugout and heads to the on-deck circle.
"If you don't know how to use it, it's not any good," he said. "I go big picture to small picture. If you stare at something big, your eyes get blurry. As soon as the weight comes off the bat, I'm seeing everything. Then I start zooming in on the release point. Sometimes, I can see the ball itself, spinning out of the fingers. You try to zero in on a spot."
As his swing got shorter and his biceps got bigger, all of baseball took notice. And those eyes allowed him to lead the AL in walks the last two seasons.
Giambi's move to New York prompted grumbles from some in baseball, those who think the Yankees just go out and buy whatever they need, no matter the price.
Already, he makes his early days in Oakland seem surreal, like some dream that may or may not have happened.
"How did I play every year when we were losing 100 games?" he said.
With the Yankees, you live for the present, but a present framed by the accomplishments of pinstripes past.
Early in spring training, Rich Gossage walked over to Giambi. In 1993, they were together at the A's camp in Phoenix.
"I was scared to talk with him," Giambi said. "Now he's asking for my autograph."
With a big smile, no goatee and more closely cropped hair (Steinbrenner does set the rules), No. 25 is taking it all in this spring, striding through the clubhouse and on the field with a determined step. Hey, in his mind, the best is yet to come.
"It's not that many people in the world who get to live out their dream," he said.


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