07/11/2004 9:52 AM ET
Giambi built for the Derby
2002 champion looks to win another crown
By Mark Feinsand / MLB.com
|Jason Giambi smiles after receiving the trophy for winning the 2002 Home Run Derby. (Ann Heisenfelt/AP)
NEW YORK -- Jason Giambi was made for the Century 21 Home Run Derby.
Judging from his results, the Yankees' slugger has it down to a science. He has finished in the top three in each of the past three competitions, taking the crown in 2002.
"The event is built for guys who swing up, like I do," Giambi said. "Most of us have that uppercut swing that goes through the baseball."
Giambi is one of eight men in the competition this year, though one of only four who do not have at least 500 home runs on their resume. Giambi's 280 career jacks put him far behind Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and Jim Thome, though he does have more than fellow participants David Ortiz and Hank Blalock.
Giambi is one of three men in the field who have won this event, joining Sosa and Bonds.
"It will be exciting," Giambi said of the collection of 500-homer talent. "A lot of people should be watching with all those guys competing, and a lot of them are past champions, too. With all the 500-homer hitters there, it should be great."
For Giambi, the event is all about having a good time and not taking himself too seriously. That said, he tries to get the first homer out of the way as quickly as possible, or the tension can really start to build up.
"I like to go out there and have fun, have a good time with it," Giambi said. "When you look up after four swings and you have a goose egg, you start feeling the pressure. You want to get that first one out, because you can get in a groove. It becomes easier after that first one."
In his first derby, in 2001, Giambi blasted a record 14 homers in the first round, but he lost to Sosa, 8-6, in the semifinals. His 20 home runs were the highest total among all the participants, including champion Luis Gonzalez, who hit 16.
"I was really nervous the first time they asked me to do it in Seattle, then I got rolling after four or five swings," Giambi said. "You want to hit it as far as you can, because that's what the fans want, but you have to get it over the fence first."
In Milwaukee in 2002, Giambi smacked 11 in the opening round, as Sosa hit 12 homers. Both players hit six in the second round, setting up a final-round showdown, which Giambi dominated, winning 7-1 to capture the title.
Last season, Giambi hit 12 in the opening round, and it looked like he was well on his way to defending his title. But in a second-round battle with Albert Pujols, Giambi's 11 homers weren't enough, as the Cardinals phenom tied Giambi's record with 14 dingers.
"I had a big first round, then a big second round, but Pujols tied my record," Giambi said. "There was nothing I could do."
With all of the living members of the 500 home run club in attendance, this year's Home Run Derby promises to be one of the most memorable of all-time. Giambi is very excited to see Mark McGwire, his old Oakland teammate who retired with 583 homers.
"He took me under his wing when I got to the big leagues, so it should be fun," said Giambi of Big Mac, whose record of 13 homers in the derby at Fenway in 1999 he broke. "He's not taking any swings. He's done with ball. He's a dad and a golfer now."
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.