He Answers a Second Call to Duty : Baseball: Cal State Long Beach’s Jason Giambi was on the verge of starting his professional career, but he got another chance to attain Olympic glory.
It took more than a month, but Jason Giambi finally decided that he needed to move forward.
Giambi, one of the most consistent hitters in college baseball the past three seasons, was disappointed when he was cut from the U.S. Olympic baseball team in June after participating in a 40-player tryout at Millington, Tenn.
A second-round draft choice of the Oakland Athletics, Giambi, a third baseman from Cal State Long Beach, returned home to Covina and tried to focus on the professional career that lay ahead rather than the end of his amateur career.
By the time Giambi agreed to terms with the A’s, signed a contract and reported to Scottsdale, Ariz., on July 5, Barcelona was out of his mind.
Then the phone rang.
Team USA wanted Giambi back. Specifically, Coach Ron Fraser wanted Giambi’s bat in the lineup to help bolster an offensive attack that had been sputtering during the squad’s pre-Olympic schedule. Was Giambi still interested in going for the gold in Barcelona, where for the first time baseball will be contested as a medal sport?
“My first reaction was, ‘Is this a joke?’ ” said Giambi, a left-handed hitter. “Of course I wanted to rejoin the team. I had been dreaming about it ever since I saw Will Clark and those guys play in Los Angeles in 1984.
“I guess you could say that I’ve seen both worlds. I know what it feels like to be cut, and I know what it feels like to make the team.
“There must be somebody upstairs looking out for me.”
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Giambi helped lead Long Beach to the College World Series in 1991 and was a member of the U.S. team that won a bronze medal at the Pan American Games in Cuba last summer. During this past season, Giambi, 21, batted .363 for the 49ers, who lost to Texas in the Central Regional of the NCAA playoffs at Austin, Tex.
With Long Beach Coach Dave Snow on the Olympic coaching staff, Giambi and 49er shortstop Chris Gomez were considered favorites to win positions on the final 20-player team.
“I felt really confident because I had played on the Pan Am team,” Giambi said. “Everybody kept saying, ‘You and Chris are going to be the left side of the infield.’ But I knew that I still had to make the team.”
With Phil Nevin--Baseball America’s college player of the year and the No. 1 pick in the professional draft--penciled into the lineup at third, Giambi was told his best chance to start would be at first base. Giambi did not hesitate to make the move, despite having never played the position. He batted .429 in three games but was cut in favor of UCLA sophomore Ryan McGuire. Gomez also was released.
“They called me in and said, ‘We don’t know if this is the right or wrong decision, but at this point, this is what we think is best,’ ” Giambi said. “I said, ‘Well if that’s how you feel . . .’
“I think they thought that Ryan McGuire was just a more natural first baseman. He was good defensively, and they thought he would hit well enough to stay in the lineup.”
Snow said that, in retrospect, he might have undersold Giambi and Gomez to the rest of the coaching staff in his attempt to be objective.
“The coaching staff was putting emphasis on power and speed,” Snow said. “Jason didn’t fit into either one of those categories. But as things went on, it became apparent that we needed a disciplined hitter that was going to have good at-bats time after time after time.”
Once the decision was made to release McGuire and bring back Giambi, the Olympic coaching staff was faced with trying to contact him before he played a game professionally. Snow called Giambi’s home, but the family had left to watch Giambi sign his contract with the A’s.
“I got a message, but I thought he was just calling to see if I had signed or something,” Giambi said. “Then they called again, but I had already left for the airport to fly to Scottsdale.
“Finally, they got in touch with my Dad that night and he called me in the morning to give me the news.”
Giambi rejoined Team USA with 10 games remaining in its 30-game, 20-city exhibition tour. Although the team struggled against Cuba and is battling fatigue, Giambi said the United States will be ready when it opens Olympic play July 26 against Spain.
“This team is capable of winning the gold medal,” Giambi said. “A lot of the guys are tired because they have been playing every day and traveling so much. But once they get over to Barcelona, I think you’ll see a totally different team.
“I mean, if you can’t get up for playing in the Olympics, then something is wrong with you.”
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