Drag racing and baseball: Trent Giambrone’s journey to the Cubs
When Trent Giambrone was young, his parents presented him with a simple choice: drag racing or baseball.
“I chose baseball,” Giambrone said recently via phone.
Drag racing has been a part of the family since his birth. The time commitment required to excel in the sport is substantial, just like baseball. Giambrone’s father and older brother work on their cars three to four days a week. They spend their extra time racing over three-day weekends, for large and small sums of money, close to home or far away.
“The racing that they do is very strategic, it’s not about who gets there first, it’s index racing, you’re racing on so many different levels, so many different games can be played, so many different strategies can be taken,” Giambrone said. “That’s where, to me, it’s so awesome to just go and watch.”
Giambrone exudes a “get after it” mentality that originates from the admiration he has for his family’s passion. It strengthened from a young age as he watched his father and brother grind away and excel at their craft. And he has applied it seamlessly to his professional career.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Giambrone home to his birthplace of Metairie, Louisiana. He trains daily in the same building as his father’s drag racing shop, about 10 minutes from his parents’ home. He has a full gym set-up along with a pitching machine and batting cage to keep him in shape.
A plan for the 2020 MLB season is coming into focus, and when baseball returns, rosters will likely expand beyond 26 men. Giambrone has attacked his weaknesses at the plate and played six positions for Triple-A Iowa last year. He is a logical choice to potentially receive an elevated role with his polished “get after it” mindset and versatility.
The Los Angeles Dodgers selected Giambrone in the 30th round of MLB’s 2012 First-Year Player Draft as a high-schooler out of Louisiana. Instead of signing, Giambrone chose to attend Jones County Junior College in Mississippi for two seasons. He then transferred to Division-II Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi, for his junior and senior seasons.
Giambrone slashed a gaudy .386/.433/.601 in his final season at Delta State and won the ABCA/Rawlings Defensive Player of the Year award, among other accolades. The Cubs noticed his success and selected him in the 25th round of MLB’s 2016 Draft.
In over 400 minor league games in his four seasons after being drafted, Giambrone holds a .416 slugging percentage with consistency from level to level. Last season at Triple-A, he had a career-high 23 homers, highlighting the sneaky power he generates from his 5-foot-8 frame. He also played 126 games last season, starting no more than 40 at any one position.
“He’s had to earn every stripe he has on his shoulder,” Triple-A Iowa Cubs manager Marty Pevey said via phone recently. “He wasn’t a high-round draft pick, he didn’t get a whole lot of money, came from a small university, had to earn his playing time, every single day.”
Giambrone’s family has been there to encourage him from a young age. When he was 14 years old, he returned home from a baseball game to a challenge from his father.
“I’m gonna beat you in a race,” Giambrone’s father, known as Big Tony, said. “You weren’t running down to first base hard enough.”
Big Tony asked Trent’s older brother, Little Tony, to grab the family video camera to film the challenge. With Giambrone’s mother also watching from the yard, the race came and went in the blink of an eye.
“A 45-year-old man beat me in a race with his shoes off in the street,” Giambrone said. “That’s how we were raised. Get after whatever you’re doing.”
Giambrone has worked with noted performance coach Eric Cressey since high school. The New York Yankees hired Cressey in January to oversee their training and strength-and-conditioning departments. Cressey is best known for working with pitchers like Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber, but he has also had a strong impact on the Cubs. He has worked with former Cubs relievers Steve Cishek and Brandon Kintzler. Last offseason, Kyle Hendricks sought out Cressey to strengthen his lower half. Giambrone takes a week to train with Cressey in Florida every offseason before heading to his home gym and cage setup in Louisiana.
At Triple-A Iowa in 2019, Giambrone worked closely with Pevey and hitting coach Chris Valaika to attack a weakness. His swings and misses on fastballs often came on pitches at the top of the zone, an area pitchers have become more comfortable attacking in recent years.
The gameplan was to coax Giambrone into getting his hands on top of elevated pitches and “back the ball up,” as Pevey terms it. Wherever Giambrone’s hands go, the barrel of his bat would have to follow. Proper execution would give Giambrone a better chance against the pitches he has struggled against.
“Backing the ball up means hitting the ball with backspin,” Pevey said. “If you can back the ball up, it’s going to carry further.”
Gaining an extra few feet of distance on a ball hit with backspin could be the difference between a home run or a double. Giambrone’s first home run this spring came in the Cubs’ first game against the Oakland Athletics on Feb. 22. In the bottom of the 8th inning, he hit a 2-1 fastball right at the letters out for a home run.
“We were pumped,” Pevey said.
Inside his father’s drag racing shop, Giambrone is taking swings and keeping his body in shape. A short walk away, his father and older brother are still working on their cars. But none of them can compete and fulfill their competitive drive.
“For them to not be able to go and do what they love to do,” Giambrone said. “It sucks.”
Giambrone still finds positives amid the pandemic. The usual baseball schedule allows for minimal extended family time throughout the season’s grind. Quarantine has given him the chance to have dinner back at his parent’s house after the daily grind.
“The biggest thing for me is just growth,” Giambrone said. “What I mean by growth is not just in my game, but in my faith and my family life … I’m going to take this time to be a better son and be a better brother.”
The church Giambrone attends is currently posting online sermons, which occupies most of his free time away from his family, gym and batting cage. He has a leg up on other players who are improvising their quarantine workouts and don’t have the luxury of a pitching machine.
With an expanded roster expected once baseball resumes and his defensive versatility to go along with his offensive tweaks, Giambrone could very well receive an opportunity to make his MLB debut with the Cubs this summer. For now, he’ll continue to get after it alongside his family.
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