Thong years long gone, Giambi has remade himself into mature mentor

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Jason Giambi is like a "bad penny,'' he says, because nobody's going to get rid of him so easily. Certainly not the sport he still loves just as much as when he came up -- with such a long-ago A's team that it still included Mark McGwire, Dave Stewart and Terry Steinbach.

Really, it's quite amazing that Giambi is still in baseball, considering not only his 42 years but his previous carefree lifestyle. He wasn't a guy opposed to having a good time, let's put it that way, and that includes late-night fun.

"I go to bed at 9 o'clock now. I used to see 9 in the morning,'' Giambi said. "I had a lot of fun. But I take care of myself now. I finally grew up.''

He seems decades away from his thong days. But if he hadn't reformed, he would have been like one of patented homers, long gone. Giambi, one of the oldest players in uniform, knows that, and so does everyone else in baseball. He's matured to the point where he's now considered a great mentor and even manager material. And his engaging personality would surely make him a natural for parts of the job.

No one who witnessed Giambi's prime and heard the legendary stories of fun would have believed he'd still be in the big leagues, not at age 42. But here he is, in a revitalized Indians camp, loving it like he's a kid. (He's always been a kid at his core, anyway.)

After slipping to .225 with just one home run in 2012, (following a 2011 season in which he hit .260 with 13 home runs and a .958 OPS), he has a minor-league deal that'll pay him $750,000 if he's on the big club. And, while no spot is guaranteed to an over-40 player on a minor-league deal, he has a good shot. The Indians are a lot deeper than they've been in the past, but they look like they could use his lefty power off the bench, and yes, his mentoring ability.

"It's an opportunity to play with good young players,'' Giambi said. "It keeps me young.''

It's an opportunity for him, and for the Indians, who are engendering excitement throughout Cleveland (they sold out Opening Day in six minutes, and ticket sales are up 40 percent). "They've made some nice moves to give themselves an opportunity,'' Giambi said. "They competed last year, until the wheels came off.''

They've placed his locker here between Mark Reynolds and Lonnie Chisenhall, two corner infielders who could learn from Giambi. Reynolds has star potential if he can drastically cut down his strikeouts, Chisenhall is all about potential.

It's another youngster that has changed Giambi's life, though ... his 15-month-old daughter London.

"I'm loving every minute of it,'' he said.

Giambi earned so much respect for the way he handled his part-time role with the Rockies the past four years that they pretty seriously considered giving him the managerial job, despite him having no experience, before they settled on respected ex-Rockie Walt Weiss, who only beat Giambi for experience by managing his kid's high school team. Other teams (including the Phillies) wanted Giambi as a coach, so it's easy to see him becoming a major-league manager at some point.

But Giambi isn't done playing, not for awhile, not as far as he's concerned. And he makes more sense here with the Indians, where he can DH a couple times a week, as opposed to Colorado.

Giambi said, "I'm going to keep playing until they tear the uniform off or my body tells me it's time to go.''

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