TUCSON, Ariz. – Jeremy Giambi wants to talk. He parks his Hummer H2 in the parking lot at his spring training hotel, hops out and heads for the Bennigan’s next door. He needs a drink.

When he walks in, nobody recognizes him. He looks different since he stopped using steroids.

“It’s something I did,” Giambi says. “I apologize. I made a mistake. I moved on. I kind of want it in the past.”

Giambi, a former Royal who last week signed with the Chicago White Sox, understands that won’t happen. Since the federal investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative blew open the issue of performance-enhancing drugs and thrust Jeremy and his older brother, Jason, into the storm’s eye, the specter of steroids has dominated baseball.

In an interview with The Kansas City Star , Jeremy Giambi became the first active baseball player with significant major-league experience to publicly admit that he knowingly used steroids.

While he did not specifically say his brother used steroids, Jeremy cited a press conference a month ago during which Jason sat in front of a small group of New York media and apologized profusely. He never gave a reason for the apology.

“If you don’t know what he’s apologizing for,” Jeremy says, “you must’ve been in a coma for two years.”

Giambi declined to get into specifics of his steroid use, but this much is certain: He went from a decent major-league outfielder to a journeyman starving for what could be one final shot. Injuries-ones he thinks might have been brought on by steroids-sidelined him for most of the last two seasons. All of the promise shown during 1998, when Giambi hit .372 with the Class AAA Omaha Royals, has withered.

So before he starts over, he wants to come clean about steroids. He wants others to do the same.

“They’re not good for you,” Giambi says. “I think we need to reach out and let teenagers know they’re not good for your body and not good for your health.

“Do I ever think they’ll rid sports of it completely? No. Unless they go to the source of where they’re distributing it from, they may never get rid of it in sports. The temptation is too high.”

Jeremy Giambi once succumbed to that temptation. He was looking for a boost.

It left him here, looking back.

Every Sunday evening, the music blared and the grill flamed and the laughs flowed at Mike Sweeney’s house. Jeremy Giambi was the DJ. Sweeney still has the CD that Giambi burned. It’s labeled “JG and MJ’s Greatest Hits ’99.”

The hits came in all forms that year. After a brief call-up in 1998, Giambi stuck with the Royals for good that next season after being recalled in June . He lived at Sweeney’s place in Overland Park with Jed Hansen and former Chiefs tight end Brian Roche. They memorized “Good Will Hunting.” They played Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit. They called it the frat house.

Back then, Giambi was a prospect. His brother had started to develop a power stroke with the Oakland A’s in 98, and the same was expected of Jeremy.

“We had bigger plans for him,” says Herk Robinson, the Royals’ general manager when Giambi came up. “We thought he was a really good hitter. And I think he is. You look at him and look at his brother, and Jason’s a great hitter. We thought they were a lot alike.”

They always compared Jeremy to Jason. Even before the alleged steroid use, Jason was bigger and stronger, the more natural one. Their baseball education started in the batting cages of West Covina, Calif. John Giambi made his sons take the pitches that were balls. It taught them patience and discipline.

After winning a College World Series title at Cal State-Fullerton, Jeremy Giambi joined the Royals as a sixth-round draft choice in 1996. He tore through the minor leagues, hitting for average and power. Even with Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye roaming the Royals’ outfield, management was determined to find Giambi a spot.

“You look at the talent first,” says Tony Muser, then the Royals’ manager. “He could hit. Everywhere he played in the minor-league system he hit. The projection on him was that someday, if he played every day, he’d have a chance to win a batting title on a major-league level.”

Giambi never got that chance. Despite hitting .285 in his first full season, the Royals soured on him after he posted a lower slugging percentage than on-base percentage. His star faded. Neither Robinson nor Muser believes Giambi was taking steroids when the Royals traded him in 2000 to Oakland, where he reunited with Jason and resurrected his career.

In the first year Jeremy played with his brother, Jason won the American League MVP award. In 2001, Jeremy posted his best season offensively.

In the playoffs, with the A’s ahead of the New York Yankees 2-0 in the AL first-round series and poised to take game three, Giambi was involved in a play that came to define his big-league career. He didn’t slide into home plate, Derek Jeter made an incredible back-handed toss for an out, and the Yankees won three straight.

Still, those were high times for the Giambi boys. They bought a house together near Las Vegas, where they hit clubs and immersed themselves in the nightlife scene.

“He just idolized his brother,” Robinson says. “I swear, he wanted to do well because of Jason.”

It was Jason who introduced Jeremy to steroids, according to a transcript of the BALCO grand jury proceedings obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle . When he testified in front of the grand jury, Jeremy said he used steroids in cream and liquid form and injected human growth hormone and testosterone.

In December 2001, Jason signed a $120 million free-agent contract with the Yankees. Around the same time, Jeremy had been arrested for carrying a half-ounce of marijuana in his backpack. By the middle of 2002, Jeremy fell out of favor with A’s management and was traded to Philadelphia, where he toiled for half a season.

No longer was Jeremy chasing his brother’s accomplishments; a roster spot was enough. He spent 2003 with the Boston Red Sox and sat on the bench – out with a surgically repaired shoulder – during their game seven AL Championship Series loss to the Yankees. In 2004, Giambi missed almost the entire season because of a herniated disk in his back.

Signed by the Dodgers, he didn’t play a single big-league game. He still doesn’t know if he’ll ever make it back to the majors.

His face is a little chubbier than it used to be, his hairline even thinner. He’s inching toward middle age.

Giambi figures his latest birthday affords him at least that. He wants to change the public perception about him; he figures he can turn into an anti-steroid advocate.

“When they hear my name, they relate it to a lot of bad publicity with what’s going on now,” Giambi says. “What they should think is what kind of person I am. What kind of heart I have. What I believe in. That’s playing for the love of the game, trying to reach out and make the game a better place.”

Giambi isn’t the only one. Last week, a Congressional committee subpoenaed seven of baseball’s top players to appear Thursday in Washington, D.C., and discuss the issue of steroids. And in January, baseball agreed to enforce a harsher steroid-testing policy that will penalize and publicly out offenders.

“Baseball has taken a step forward,” Giambi says. “People need to realize that and let it work. I wouldn’t want to be the first one to get caught. It might be worse than a murder trial.”

Because he was a relatively small figure in the BALCO trial, Giambi hasn’t gotten nearly the attention of his brother or Barry Bonds, who admitted to the grand jury that he unknowingly used steroids, according to the Chronicle report. Jeremy has avoided the steroid chants that follow Jason. Giambi’s profile is so low that when he signed a minor-league contract with the White Sox last Monday, the team didn’t even announce it.

For now, Giambi is fine with that. Once the grand jury proceedings end, he plans on telling his story in detail. He thinks Jason might, too.

Giambi wants absolution. He’s trying in other ways. His father and brother helped him build four softball fields in California that look like major-league replicas.

No steroid talk or BALCO. Just beer and ball.

“Sometimes you get caught up in moments,” Giambi says. “They take you the wrong way. You’ve got to look at yourself. Whether it’s anything in life-drugs, drinking, doing what you do-there are so many evil things in the world, you have to get back to the things that make you happy. Your family. Your friends. Baseball.”

The stakes are high here in the desert. Another injury and Giambi’s career could become an afterthought.

The White Sox took an MRI of Giambi’s shoulder during his physical, and it looked good enough for him to play. It took him until almost the middle of spring training to earn the White Sox’s invitation, and even now, general manager Ken Williams declines to talk about Giambi.

He’s betting the White Sox see that. Giambi doesn’t want to spend the season at Class AAA Charlotte. The last time he spent significant time in the minors was 97.

He’s better than that, he thinks. He’s big league.

And then Giambi remembers the steroids. It’s always there, the decision he still regrets.

“You look at some situations and tell yourself that it’s something you wish never happened,” Giambi says.

“But it did. You’ve got to move on with it and get on and wake up every day and do what you normally do.”

He’s trying. He’s living smaller. The H2 is the last vestige of his major-league life. The biggest amenities in Giambi’s room at the Riverpark Inn are the cases of water he uses to stay hydrated. He’s spent the last three nights eating at this Bennigan’s.

Giambi reaches over and finishes his last whiskey and Coke. The ice in the tumbler has long since melted.

The place is closing soon, and the conversation has faded. Giambi stands up and walks toward the exit. It’s bedtime. He’s got to be up early the next morning to work out, to start over.

He heads upstairs to his room, looking forward.

(c) 2005, The Kansas City Star.

Visit The Star Web edition on the World Wide Web at http://www.kcstar.com/

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.


ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Jeremy Giambi

AP-NY-03-12-05 2225EST

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