- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Still, Margie calls her son Dude, which tells you something about their relationship. A former fast-pitch softball player, Margie strapped on gear to catch CC in the backyard, quitting only when, at 12, he nearly broke her hand with a fastball and she pulled off the mask and said, "Get someone else. You're past me." Hers was the opinion on girls and life that mattered most to CC; she was the best friend he could trust with any secret, the one he turned to even when it wasn't wise to do so. "So, Mom," CC once asked, "do you get in trouble for throwing eggs at people's cars?"
Of course you could do far worse things in north Vallejo in the 1990s, especially in the Sabathias' neighborhood, known as the Crest, where you could cruise up Gateway Drive to get drugs and where bleary-eyed men banged on the windows of passing cars. But Mare Island hadn't yet been shut down, and the Crest felt more hardworking than crime-ridden because the men hadn't gone away. Fathers still coached, were part of their sons' lives. "The Little League field where we went to play used to be full of fathers," says Dave Bernstine, a baseball coach at Vallejo High. "Now you see one or two."
And in that small corner of the Bay Area, at least, baseball was king. When CC was in second grade, his teacher asked her students to name their dream job, barring sports. CC still wrote BASEBALL PLAYER and wouldn't back down. By age 12 CC was throwing fire; one of his fastballs shattered a kid's elbow. But then CC was just bigger and better than his peers, a lefthander ahead of the pack. He figured that would be enough. The first time Vallejo High's new coach, Abe Hobbs, met him, CC was an eighth-grader gnawing on a supersized Snickers bar. His cousin Nathan Berhel brought him over to be introduced; a pack of Hobbs's pitchers was doing wind sprints. "What position do you play?" Hobbs asked.
CC pointed to the players gasping on the grass. "What are those guys?" he said.
"Uh...I play first base."
CC filled out a form for Hobbs before his freshman season. Uniform size, pants and shirt? Big as you got, he wrote.
Pock! Boys and men cluster along the lip of the rightfield stands, clutching drink cups, programs. Even seen from above, the pitcher is massive, 6' 7" and closing in on 300 pounds. What is that his wife says whenever she sees him, head lowered, roaring after an inning-ending strikeout? "There goes the Bear."
It's true: The pitcher has a grizzly's shamble, that heavy step and surprising agility; you could almost imagine him plucking salmon from a stream. But Sabathia—easy mannered, cap askew—doesn't suggest a killer. His family, his teammates, his longtime boss and fans in Cleveland, his hometown friends and teachers, they all speak of his sweetness. "He's got a Santa Claus-type personality: Come on over and sit on my lap and let me tell you some good stories," says Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.
The announcer is done with the preliminaries. "And now, the starting lineup for YOUR New York Yankees...."