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An Exclusive Q&A with the New York Yankees Pitcher
Athlon Sports: You’re a big sports fan, and I know you’ve kept your home in northern California. But now that you live year-round in New Jersey, have you switched loyalties?
Sabathia: Oh, no, I’m still a Raiders fan, no doubt. I can never flip that, never. I’m going to a lot of Knicks games now, and I like going to the Garden and hanging out. But I’m still a Lakers fan. Everybody always thought I was a Warriors fan growing up, because I lived up there and I would go to a lot of games, and all my friends were Warriors fans. But I’ve always been a Lakers fan, even when I was young. The Raiders were the L.A. Raiders when I was growing up, so I was an L.A. Lakers/L.A. Raiders fan.
How do you turn around the Raiders?
I have no idea. They made some progress, then they fired the coach.
You were a multisport athlete in high school with a scholarship offer to play football for Hawaii. If you had stuck with football, would you have stayed a tight end?
Just looking at my size now, I probably would have ended up being a tackle. I was probably 245-250 in high school, and I’m probably 40 pounds bigger than that now. Baseball was always a sport that came easy, but football was something I had to work at, so I definitely loved to do it. I think I could have been alright. As far as basketball, I definitely couldn’t have played in the NBA; I was too slow. But it was fun to do in high school.
Scouts rave about your athleticism, and I know that extends to hitting. (Sabathia has a .258 career average with three home runs.) What’s your most memorable hit?
Definitely in 2008, a home run off Chan Ho Park at Dodger Stadium (in his first at-bat of the season). I think it was 2-0 or 2-1 count (actually 1-0). That was so much fun. It’s a little weird, running around the bases and everybody’s looking at you. But I love to hit, so anytime interleague comes around is great. Even just taking BP is fun for me.
You don’t get to hit much with the Yankees, but you do give them that one thing every team wants: a go-to ace. How do you define the word “ace” and what does that responsibility mean?
I just think it’s somebody who gives the team a chance to win every time out. When you take the mound, everybody on the team expects us to win. I think that’s what makes it. When I played with Bartolo Colon in Cleveland early in my career, every game he pitched, going into that day, you felt like you had a good chance because he was going to pitch the way he had to to win. I think that defines an ace to me.
What did you think of the way the Giants built their rotation, with three homegrown aces helping them win the World Series last season?
That’s tough to do. A guy can have all the talent in the world, but just the way those guys take the ball, I think they all feed off each other. That’s what you’ll probably see in Philly, too, with the talent level that they’ve got there, or the talent level that we have. We can go through stretches where we’re lights-out, because of the competition amongst each other.
You’ve won the Cy Young, won a World Series, won 20 games in a season. What would you like to accomplish that you haven’t already done?
I never set out to have personal goals; it’s just winning more championships. After winning in 2009, there’s no other feeling like that. That’s the only thing that really matters to me. Twenty games is awesome, and I’ll probably look at that after I’m done playing. But it’s always constantly trying to learn and make yourself better. I don’t have time to get wrapped up in personal stuff.
You’re a big memorabilia guy. What is the prize of your collection?
I’ve got a glove signed by Muhammad Ali; I actually bought it at an auction. And I’ve got a picture with him at the All-Star Game in 2004 and I got that signed, so that’s right by it. That is, by far, the coolest thing I have.
Do you have a room dedicated to it or is it all through the house?
I’ve got a lot of stuff in my office — a Jets helmet, autographed balls. But there’s some down in the bar, and really all through the house. I’ve got a bunch of jerseys signed. Now I’ve got to figure out, when I frame them, where I’m going to put them.
Your oldest son, Carsten Charles III, is 7. Who are his favorite athletes?
His favorites are LeBron (James) and Kobe (Bryant); Alex (Rodriguez) and Derek (Jeter), definitely, off our team. He’s into everything. He loves basketball, baseball, football, it’s crazy. He’s gotten his jersey signed by Amar’e Stoudemire. Amar’e was at the Stadium a couple of times this year. He seems like a good dude, and he’s definitely turned Knicks basketball around. He’s gotten the whole city behind him, so that’s good to see.
You played in Cleveland at the same time as LeBron, who is a Yankees fan. Did you try to sell New York on him and get him to play for the Knicks?
He made his own call. I didn’t talk to him about coming to New York or anything like that. He made his choice and did what he wanted to do to try to win a championship. You can’t blame him for that.
What did your son think?
Little C’s a Heat fan now. But he’s a Lakers fan, too. I’m forcing it on him: the Lakers and the Raiders.
You and your wife, Amber, recently won baseball’s Bart Giamatti Award for community service. What is the goal of your PitCCh In Foundation?
Our motto is just whatever we can do in the community, trying to help kids through educational activities and sports activities. It started off when we saw a bunch of kids going down a bad road, and it’s turned into this year where we have pretty much every age group. We did the Rosewood House (renovating a home for women recovering from drug or alcohol addiction), we took the teens shopping, we’ve given out backpacks on the first day of school. It’s getting bigger and bigger every year, and we’re trying to touch the lives of whoever we can in Vallejo and in the Bronx.
What inspired you to work in the community?
Dave Stewart came to my Boys & Girls Club one time when I was a kid. He only talked for like 20 minutes, but it just stuck with me, and I remembered that. To be able to get in front of kids in Vallejo, let them know I’m from there and they can be doing the same type of things, hopefully it can stick with somebody.