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This comeback suits NY's Giambi to a tee

He is a former American League MVP and a five-time All-Star.

He's played in the big leagues for more than a decade.

But last year, Yankees slugger Jason Giambi found himself back in tee-ball.

Well, sort of.

The power hitter was trying to rebuild his game, his life, and his swing.

The past year had been awful for Giambi in ways big and small. He missed most of 2004 because of illness and has been accused of steroid use. Last December it was reported Giambi had admitted to a grand jury in 2003 that he did indeed take steroids and human growth hormone when he was playing with the Oakland Athletics.

His 2004 numbers were a sad lot: 80 games played, 264 at-bats, 55 hits, including 12 home runs, with 40 RBIs, 47 walks, and a .208 average. He spent much of the season battling illness (an intestinal parasite and benign tumor in the pituitary gland, according to reports).

Giambi knew he was in trouble. He said he hit low point after low point, but never hit bottom. But as fans and media dismissed him, Giambi went to work. Two workouts a day, which included weight lifting, agility training, throwing, running, and hitting. His swing had deteriorated so much that he had no choice but to bring out the tee.

When he started spring training this year, Giambi said he was ''just a big question mark."

''There were a lot of unanswered questions when I went to spring training. I was sick and had a lot of problems from the year before," he said. ''When I came into spring training, talking to Joe Torre, I knew I could hit, run, and throw, but I didn't know where I was at. I felt good. I wasn't down, but my body was just a mess . . . I just wasn't handling the grind very well being out there everyday."

Today, though, it seems Giambi has found an old routine in that grind. He's almost played as many games this season as he did last year (73). He was hitting a solid .283 entering last night's game, is beginning to resemble the Giambi of old. He's collected 60 hits (including 11 homers) with an on-base percentage of .435 and a slugging percentage of .481.

Against the Red Sox this year, Giambi was hitting .276 with two home runs, including 8 hits and 4 runs in 29 at-bats entering last night.

Giambi is not spending time dwelling on the past. He's only interested in the future.

''I feel great. I feel like I'm hitting the ball well. I feel like I'm pretty close to that same player," he said. ''Now the key for me is just going to be sustaining, keeping that ball going."

Giambi has always credited his ability to work through the steroid accusations and illness to the support he received from Torre and his teammates. So while he does think his improved play has shown something to the fans who discounted him so quickly, he said the only people he worries about are the ones in pinstripes.

''[The team's support] was really more what was driving me," he said. ''Just the way they stepped forward for me. I don't know how you can put the feeling in words, but they're more excited I'm doing well than I am."

Taking heat from the media, the fans, and other players taught Giambi a great deal about himself. Whereas he used to be afraid of failure, now he's just enjoying the game.

''I'm probably 100 times stronger than I ever thought I was. I was pretty strong mentally. I mean you don't accomplish the things in this game that I have not being mentally tough," he said. ''This was no doubt a test. For me to sustain mentally what I've done and not quit, I could have easily thrown in the towel plenty of times, and I never have. That's probably the biggest thing I've come out of this with. You really get to know yourself when it seems like you're buried and they're kicking dirt on you. You find out a lot about yourself. ''

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