02/21/11 6:18 PM EST
Lambo moving forward, but not forgetting past
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
There will be scrutiny, he knows, and various attempts to dissect what's gone by in an attempt to predict what is to come.
In camp with the Pirates, Lambo anticipates the questions, welcomes them even. That's because he wants you to realize that he already knows what you think about him based on his past. He respects your opinion -- actually, he would probably agree with it if he were the one making the assumptions.
Maybe this begins to explain why Lambo makes unsolicited references to some of his most regrettable moments. Just minutes into an interview and in response to a completely innocuous question, Lambo gets rolling. He doesn't need to wait for the pointed questions. No, he wants to make sure you know upfront that while he has no desire to run from his past, he also has no intention of allowing it to define his future.
He wants that to be the first thing he talks about.
"You have to accept your past," Lambo said. "I made those decisions -- good or bad, I still made them. You have to face reality. I don't [condone] those bad decisions. But I did them. As a man, you have to move forward and not make the same decisions or mistakes."
Lambo is less than a year removed from serving a 50-game suspension for violating Minor League Baseball's Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. He tested positive for a "drug of abuse" -- which is different than a performance-enhancing substance -- and speculation was that the banned substance was marijuana.
Such speculation seems founded, too. Lambo had been suspended in high school for smoking marijuana. It was one of multiple suspensions he incurred as a student at Grover Cleveland High School in Reseda, Calif. Lambo transferred to Newbury Park High School before to his junior season and avoided similar disciplinary issues there.
Still, questions about Lambo's makeup appeared to hurt him in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. He fell to the fourth round after being projected to go in one of the top two rounds. It was the Dodgers who snatched the local teenager with the No. 146 overall pick.
Until last April, when the suspension was announced, it appeared as if the Dodgers' gamble on Lambo might pay off. He was consistently listed among the organization's best prospects and had climbed to Double-A after just one full Minor League season.
Then came the suspension. All the work that Lambo had done to repair his reputation was lost.
"There was a certain point where I was feeling really down and out," Lambo said. "You feel useless."
The Pirates, though, never took their eyes off Lambo. As the Dodgers showed interest in reliever Octavio Dotel near the Trade Deadline, Pittsburgh began putting together a list of players it would ask for in return. Lambo was one of them.
"You always do your due diligence on any player, but given a player that had gone through what Andrew had gone through, you do a little extra and try to dig a little deeper," general manager Neal Huntington said. "We were confident that he was ready to own up to his mistakes and take accountability and move beyond them and to take the next step forward in his career."
The Dodgers eventually agreed to include Lambo, along with pitcher James McDonald, in a Trade Deadline deal that sent Dotel to Los Angeles. For the Pirates, the acquisition offered a shot in the dark to a player who, if there is maturity off the field, still has the tools to be special. For Lambo, the trade offered the opportunity at a fresh start.
"To throw a lifeline out and pick someone up with my past is something I really took to the heart," Lambo said. "It really did mean a whole lot to me. I'm really making sure that I don't disappoint them and that I don't disappoint myself in representing the Pirates the right way."
Huntington and director of player development Kyle Stark talked to Lambo almost immediately. Their messages were in unison. Stark gave Lambo his cell number and told him to call anytime he needed. They asked Lambo to be open about his past and ensured him that he arrived with a clean slate.
Expectations of conduct were set, but Huntington also told Lambo that he knew he was a good kid. Both Stark and Huntington let Lambo know that this organization still believed in him as a person and a ballplayer.
"That really, really meant a whole lot to me," Lambo said. "That really touched me and my whole family. I was so proud. That's what I really liked -- how open they were. I'm really trying to work hard so that I can be a part of this Pirate future."
So far, the Bucs like what they have seen both on and off the field. After batting .275 in 26 games with Double-A Altoona, Lambo played 28 games in the Arizona Fall League. He had participated in the AFL twice before, but this time the primary purpose was to make up for those at-bats lost during the suspension.
Lambo hit .274 with four homers and finished with a league-leading 23 RBIs. There were discussions about sending Lambo to Mexico to play some more, though ultimately it was decided that taking the rest of the winter off would be most beneficial.
The Pirates extended Lambo an invitation to Major League Spring Training -- his first chance to participate in a big league camp -- and the outfielder has only continued to impress. He was among the earliest position players to report to Bradenton.
"A lot has been made about the makeup, the off-the-field stuff," Stark said. "I think Andrew is a guy who recognizes what he needs to do, embraces it and has tackled it head on. I think we've seen some growth in him already. The other thing is embracing Andrew for who Andrew is. He's a personality."
A personality, indeed.
Lambo blames some of it on his heritage -- "I'm Greek and Italian. We don't know shy. That's not in our vocabulary." -- but there is no need for him to apologize for having fun and being chatty. Lambo's impression in camp has been an extremely positive one. He has fit right in, performed well and even picked up a nickname -- the Big Lambino, courtesy of manager Clint Hurdle -- in the process.
"I'm a people person," Lambo said. "I want to get everyone as comfy as I can around me. I like being around baseball and being around baseball players. It gets me going. I just love it."
If Lambo's off-the-field actions can stay in line, the Pirates could have quietly made one of the best deals at last summer's Trade Deadline. McDonald upgraded the club's rotation immediately, and Lambo, who won't turn 23 until August, still hasn't lost the tools that made the left-handed hitter such a hyped young player early in his professional career.
The Pirates plan to start Lambo in Triple-A, where he will develop as a corner outfielder. Most of his playing time is expected to come in right field.
The rest is largely up to Lambo, who said he is poised to use the skepticism of his past as a way to focus his future.
"Time will tell," Hurdle said. "We live in a forgiving society. Our industry is forgiving. It should be.
"In Andrew's case, he has owned up. He has got his priorities, I think, in a much better place. He's taken accountability for his actions and he's moving forward. He has shown up very well for us. I think he's in a real good place right now."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.