PHOENIX -- He was just 21 years old when he was drafted by the Oakland A's. Seventeen years later, Jason Giambi walked back into the A's spring training clubhouse Thursday morning, rejoining the franchise that helped catapult him into superstardom.
"It's like you went off to college," Giambi said in his first group session with reporters this spring, "and you have a chance to be back home."
Giambi returns to his original organization as a 38-year-old veteran, with gray hair in his goatee and a résumé boasting 14 years in the big leagues. Walking into the clubhouse carrying a New York Yankees equipment bag -- a relic from the city where he spent the past seven years of his career -- the only former teammate Giambi could claim was Eric Chavez. The faces were young, the names unfamiliar but the culture that has defined the A's -- laid-back, fun, loose -- still remains. And while Giambi will miss playing in New York, he's also looking forward to building relationships with his new teammates.
"The thing about New York, it's always got action going on … it's fun to be a rock star," he said. "But I also remember the camaraderie that you have a chance to have in a smaller market. You get to have that bond."
Giambi spent the morning participating in fielding drills, signing autographs and taking batting practice. Shortstop Bobby Crosby was in the same hitting group and hit several long balls. After watching the fellow Long Beach State product -- Crosby's father, Ed, originally scouted Giambi for the A's and also was watching -- go deep, Giambi had to return the favor.
"I just had to let them know," he said with a smile.
If the younger players will be looking to Giambi for advice, his past experiences should be more than enough to qualify him as counselor. Much has changed since the first baseman broke into the majors in 1995 with Oakland, at the time surrounded by players like Rickey Henderson, Dave Stewart, Ruben Sierra and, of course, Mark McGwire.
Since then, Giambi has become a multimillionaire, an MVP, a five-time All-Star, a home run derby winner and reportedly a steroid user. Giambi said he had watched parts of former teammate Alex Rodriguez's press conference Tuesday, and felt empathy for the third baseman. After all, it was just four years ago that Giambi was having his own meeting with reporters, trying to apologize for what all assumed was past use of performance-enhancing drugs.
"I think he did a good job," Giambi said of Rodriguez. "I don't know what everybody expected. I know that's a hard thing, I've been through it. So hopefully he can concentrate on baseball and have a big year."
Giambi also confirmed he's been subpoenaed to testify in the upcoming trial of Barry Bonds but said he hadn't heard what date he's supposed to appear. He declined to expand on what he was anticipating. And for the final offseason controversial topic, Giambi said he had not read former Yankees manager Joe Torre's book and has no desire to read it.
As for baseball, it was clear his new Oakland teammates were happy to have him, especially Justin Duchscherer, a 31-year-old pitcher who greeted Giambi enthusiastically while eating lunch outside at a picnic table.
"Dude, I am so glad I don't have to face you anymore," Duchscherer said, putting down his egg salad sandwich to embrace Giambi.
There's a good reason why: Giambi is 6-for-8 with four homers against Duchscherer in his career. Duchscherer has never allowed more than one homer to any other hitter in the big leagues.
Duchscherer had better hope Giambi remains with the A's for the rest of his career -- which doesn't seem to be anywhere close to ending. Giambi signed a one-year $5.25 million deal, and the club has an option for 2010. Giambi hopes he's playing far longer than that, saying he won't leave the game, "'til they tear this uni off me."
"What am I going to do -- seriously?" he said. "Maybe be a bouncer at a strip joint. That's all I'm qualified to do."
The room of reporters laughed and it was clear, Giambi was back in Oakland, where there always seems to be a sense of humor and a place for him. It's home.
Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.