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Saturday, 03/30/2002 12:31:48 AM

Saturday, March 30, 2002 12:31:48 AM

Post# of 204605
Former sidekick now ready to go solo

By B. J. Germano, Baseball Weekly

PHOENIX — Jason is gone. So is Slugger, their dog.

The nightlife is almost non-existent. Those hot cakes from McDonald's don't even taste as good in the morning.

The cell phone bill is outrageous.

Jeremy Giambi, who spent the last two years playing alongside his brother with the Oakland A's, now is left all alone.

Jason Giambi departed for the Yankees, accepting $120 million over the next seven years. He hasn't even played a game, and he's already a star in New York.

"He's going to thrive on all of the attention there," Jeremy says. "Big city. Lots of publicity. Everything you want. If anybody can handle New York, Jason can."

Now, it's time to see if Jeremy can handle not only Oakland but also a major league career without his big bro.

"I really think it's the best thing for him that they're apart," A's ace Tim Hudson says. "I know they're best friends and do everything together, but it's got to be tough to play in your brother's shadow all of the time, especially being on the same team.

"He's been in his brother's shadow a long time. Now he's got a chance to do his own thing and find an identity of his own in this game."

Jeremy has lived in Jason's shadow ever since they were kids.

"No matter what I did, it was never good enough," Jeremy says. "I could hit .320 this year with 20 homers and people will say, 'How come you didn't hit .340 with 40 homers?' The expectations get so high, you start to resent it."

Jeremy tried to give Jason his space last winter when he was trying to decide whether to stay with the A's or play for the Yankees. Sure, he wanted Jason to stay. Who wouldn't want to be on the same team with his brother and best friend? Yet, he also realized that Jason had to do what was in his heart.

"When Jason became a free agent and the A's still hadn't signed him, I knew it would be hard to keep him," Jeremy says. "I really didn't know whether Oakland could compete with the big boys. It turned out that they couldn't."

Instead of being angry or despondent, Jeremy was happy for his brother. They had spent two years together with the A's. They grew closer and did everything together.

Really, the first time they were apart for an extended period was when Jason flew to New York with their parents for the signing announcement. Jeremy was invited but opted to stay, thinking it would be awkward to be in New York since he still was a member of the A's.

"Thank God I did," Jeremy says.

Indeed, while Jason stood smiling in front of the dozens of cameras and hundreds of reporters in New York, the news came out that Jeremy had been arrested for possession of marijuana. Jeremy wasn't actually arrested, but rather had been given a citation when airport officials discovered a small amount of marijuana in his carry-on bag at the Las Vegas airport during a security check. The incident had occurred three days earlier, but it wasn't until Jason's news conference that the news was released.

The timing was awful.

"It's like they chose to release it at the same time," Jeremy says. "It was embarrassing. I learned a lot through that."

Jeremy, 27, wasn't heard from again until he stunned everyone with his arrival in spring training. He had shed 10 pounds and arrived with a hardened body and a new attitude.

"I wanted to get myself in the best shape that I could and give myself every opportunity to have a good year," Jeremy says. "Look, being compared to Jason is something I got used to, and it's great, but this is my opportunity. It's right in front of me. This is my chance. I don't want to let it go."

Jeremy might not become the power hitter his brother is, but he has the potential to become a key part of the A's offense.

The A's, in fact, are counting on him to be an offensive catalyst much the same way as they did Jason. The difference is that Jeremy, who had a .391 on-base percentage last season, is projected to be the A's leadoff hitter.

"We really don't have a prototypical leadoff hitter in the lineup," manager Art Howe says, "but there's no reason why he can't do it. I know I like what I've seen. He's much more businesslike this year. He dedicated himself to have a good year.

"It's time for him to go out and do it on his own now."

Certainly, no one will ever mistake Jeremy for Rickey Henderson. He has stolen only one base in his major league career (during last year's postseason).

"I don't think you have to be a great basestealer to be a leadoff hitter," Jeremy says. "You just have to get on base and do the little things. I can do that. I mean, look at last year. We had Johnny Damon, a great leadoff hitter, but we never utilized his talent. We didn't have him running too much because we didn't want him thrown out with all of our big guys coming up.

"He'd get on first and score on a double. That's the thing I've got to do as well. In our offense, you don't really need a guy who steals a lot of bases. We don't really play the small game. I don't feel like I have to change anything."

Well, maybe it wouldn't hurt if he could at least slide safely across the home plate just once this year. Preferably, early in the season.

That might be the only way to erase the memory of Game 3 of the 2001 Division Series against the Yankees.

The A's were up two games to none in the series, but trailing 1-0 in the seventh inning of Game 3 when it happened. Jeremy was on first base when Terrence Long hit a double. Jeremy took a wide turn around third base, but just when it looked like he'd score easily, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter fielded the errant cutoff throw and made a backhanded flip to home plate.

Instead of sliding across the plate, Jeremy went in standing up. Catcher Jorge Posada tagged him out. The A's lost the game 1-0.

They still had to win just one of the last two games to advance to the American League Championship Series, but lost them both. The A's sat home the rest of October while the Bay Area replayed Jeremy's non-slide over and over.

"It's so unfair that people keep bringing that up," Howe says. "People blame Jeremy for us not beating the Yankees and going on in the playoffs. It's such an unfair assumption that we were going to win the game.

"People are so clueless sometimes."

Jeremy says: "People can say what they want. But I'm not going to sit there and second-guess myself. That was one play. We still had Games 4 and 5. It wasn't like that was the ninth inning of Game 5. We still had plenty of chances to get it done but couldn't do it.

"But if people want to pin it on me, that's fine. I'm a man. I'll take it. ... Maybe I should have slid, but who's to say if I slid that I'd be safe? Nobody knows. That's the question there will always be, I guess. Whether it was right or wrong, that's the choice I made. I'll have to live with it.

"But to tell you the truth, I didn't even think about it all winter. I wasn't going to sit around and sulk. It happened. It's over."

Jeremy can only hope he'll have the chance to be presented with the same dilemma again this year. The A's aren't being given much of a chance to win the AL West with the departure of his brother, Damon and closer Jason Isringhausen.

"Subconsciously, maybe we relied on Jason too much," Jeremy says. "We always looked to Jason to get that big hit, get that walk, drive in that run and take on the media. Now, those responsibilities are up to us.

"I'm not saying I'm going to replace Jason. Nobody can do that. But if people don't think we're going to contend again, they might be in for a big surprise. I really feel our chances are as good as anybody's.

"We've been knocking on the door the last two years. We've just fallen one game short against the Yankees. Now, we have a chance to do our thing.

"And hopefully, I can do my thing."

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