YANKEE SPRING TRAINING JOURNAL, DAY 1
I was nervous walking in, my first day with the Big League Team. My hands shook so badly you could hear the bats rattle in my bag. “Here,” said Hideki Matsui, reaching out a massive hand, “Let me take that,” I was surprised and pleased that he spoke neither in Japanese or English, but in Esperanto, which he had learned in order to welcome rookies of all nationalities. Gary Sheffield approached me, put a hand on his hip, cocked an eyebrow, and said, “That blow-dried look won’t work for you in the Show, I’m afraid,” and immediately set up a Skype session for me with his own stylist in Brentwood.
Then I saw him, over in the corner, near the chocolate fountain. Jason Giambi, staring at me with sad, wounded eyes. He pointed at himself, then he mimed plunging a syringe into his own buttock. His eyes never left mine. It was haunting. I looked away, unable to stand the intensity of his gaze, and when I looked back, he was gone.
A tough but good day taking batting practice under the eye of the coaches, as well as two hours of fielding drills with the other prospects. I’m feeling confident and reminding myself that the field here is the same size as in all the minor league parks I’ve played in.
When I return to my locker, a note falls out. It says, “Storage room.”
There is no light when I open the door to the storage room, and the switch on the wall doesn’t work as I flick it up and down. Then a spark flares in the corner, and I see the face of Jason Giambi, who lights a candle with his freshly lit match. He has created a kind of shrine around himself, broken syringes, pill bottles, and needles, all pointing towards himself, in the center. He is naked except for compression pants, with the words “Guilty” painted all over his powerful torso in lipstick.
“The first time, you think it’s just for an emergency, just to get your energy back after a tough series,” he said, dully, his eyes staring at the candle flame. “You say to yourself, ‘It’s not cheating, it’s just getting myself back to what I really am.’ But the second time, the third, the fourth… pretty soon, it is who you really are. A cheater.’”
“What’s that music?” I asked him.
“’Carmina Burana,’ by Carl Orff,” he said. “I alternate that with the Smiths.”
“Oh,” I said. “I like Nicky Minaj, maybe a little Maroon 5. Gets me pumped up for the game.”
He blew out the candle just as I closed the door, plunging himself back into darkness.
My first spring training game and it didn’t go well. Nerves, I think. Two strikeouts and a dribbler to short in my first 3 ABs, but I was able to focus on playing my own game and beat out an infield single in the 8th. Posada, Mitsui, and Sheffield did the Wave from the dugout, and Derek Jeter sent me flowers.
Still, I wasn’t in the best mood, so when I saw a huge sheaf of paper pinned to my locker I didn’t even read it but went straight to Giambi. “What’s this, Jason?” I said,
“It’s my confession,” he said, staring down the floor. “Every instance, every injection, every pill popped, even the time I chewed some chia seeds. I wanted to unburden myself to you, completely, so that you would know me to the depths.”
“Yeah, I appreciate that, Jason,” I said, “And I know you’re really really sorry about the drugs and stuff…”
“More than you know.”
“No, Jason, I think I know EXACTLY HOW MUCH. There were the notes, and the song you wrote, and the video presentation.
“I animated that by hand,” he whispered.
“Right, yes, so the point is, I KNOW YOU’RE SORRY. And you know what, bro? I forgive you. It’s okay, man. You don’t have to worry about me.”
Jason looked up at me.
“I’d be crying right now,” he said, “But incessant use of steroids destroyed my tear ducts.”
“I know,” I said. “That was in the Powerpoint.”
He stood up.
“Thanks, man,” he said. “Your forgiveness is all I asked.”
“You got it, bro.”
I turned to walk away.
“One for four today, huh?” he said. “No way you’re taking my position with numbers like that. I told the skipper, you get sent down or I demand a trade. Enjoy the minors, rook.”
I stared at him.
“I’m sorry for that, too,” he said.