‘Papa G’ proud of role as one of the Tribe’s leaders — but not the only one
It was the year the Atlanta Braves were the World Series Champions and the Houston Rockets won the NBA Championship. It was also in 1995 — 18 years ago — that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened in Cleveland, and the billboards ranked “On Bended Knee,” by Boyz II Men, the No. 1 song.
That same year, 8-year-old Jason Kipnis entered the third grade and began following the career of “Papa G,” who debuted with the Oakland Athletics and eventually became a veteran mentor with the Tribe.
Indians designated hitter Jason Giambi signed with the Indians this offseason and wasted no time establishing himself as “Papa G,” a father-like figure for numerous Indians players. The five-time All-Star specifically developed a solid relationship with Kipnis, who says he has grown under Giambi’s leadership this season.
“He’s a guy I admire a lot and look up to. I’ve said this numerous times: He’s the most approachable guy in this organization,” Kipnis said. “He’s so easy to talk to, and he comes to the ballpark still learning about the game, not acting like he knows everything and open to learning new things. You have any question, the guy pretty much has the right answer for you, too.”
Many expected Giambi, 42, to become the leader of the Indians upon his arrival at Spring Training this season. The experienced veteran, however, had other ideas.
“Everybody should be some type of leader [role] on this ball club because you can’t have one guy that [takes charge],” Giambi said. “It takes a whole team to kind of lead each other and police each other and push each other, so I don’t really believe in that. We all need to be a leader — each one of us.
“[Leadership is] really a gift given to you by your teammates. I think the biggest thing is they all see that I have a big heart and that I’m here to help them, and that’s the most important thing. I don’t really look at it as [being] a leader [as much as] a mentor.”
Kipnis has really taken advantage of Giambi’s presence in the Indians locker room. The two teammates have lockers across from one another, and Giambi has made it clear to his “son” that he is always willing to talk if Kipnis needs advice or encouragement.
And although Kipnis has admired Giambi throughout Giambi’s professional career, he said he never once felt intimidated speaking with him.
“It was like talking to a guy who was in the same shoes as you are, someone you could easily relate to and someone that is just a student of the game,” Kipnis said. “That’s the best part about him — how easily approachable he is and how well he communicates with his teammates; it’s like having another coach.”
Giambi, who in addition to his time with the A’s also has played for the Yankees and Rockies, has belted more than 30 home runs in eight different seasons and recorded a lifetime batting average of .279 in 2,191 career games.
Kipnis said he learned from Giambi’s style of play as a youth baseball player in the Chicago area.
“The biggest compliment he’s ever given me was he thinks I’m a player that’s a decade late; he thinks I should have been here two decades [ago]. He says I should have been playing in the ’90s and the 2000s,” Kipnis said. “He said I would have fit right into that game.”
Giambi admits that he has taken Kipnis under his wing and done his best to teach him about the game and about life.
“I’ve definitely tried to be here for everybody. I’ve gone through a lot of life experiences. I’ve gone through a lot of years in this game, so I’ve seen the ups and downs,” he said. “I’m basically here for everybody, but the one guy that I always tease and that I call my son is Kipnis. I take care of Kip, but also [catcher Carlos] Santana, and [try to] help further these guys’ careers. I want to see them turn into the next superstars of the team.”
Giambi mentioned Kipnis, Santana, Chris Perez and Lonnie Chisenhall as a handful of his teammates with the potential to do big things in the Major Leagues one day.
He said it is important that every member of the roster develops relationships with their teammates because it eliminates pressure within the clubhouse. When each player does not have to worry about the pitcher who gave up a home run or the batter who struck out in the ninth inning, they can focus better on their own game.
“Sometimes, I think that’s one of the forgotten things in this game because there’s so much pressure, so much emphasis on what I need to do; sometimes you forget that there are other people on this team,” he said. “[General Manager] Chris [Antonetti] has done an incredible job putting this team together, where everybody — I can literally say everybody — roots for everybody. That’s very rare in this game where we all enjoy being around each other.”
–TribeVibe contributor Megan Golden