OAKLAND (AP) — CC Sabathia spent a day off handing out his 50,000th backpack to first-graders and second-graders at home in Vallejo as kids returned to school.
The veteran major leaguer has been doing thoughtful things in Vallejo for years, and this marked the 11th year he has donated backpacks. On Monday, however, he got to give them out on the first day at every elementary school for the first time. The larger-than-life lefty certainly could relate to all the crying kindergarteners as they parted from their parents at drop-off. That used to be him in tears as a boy, and he still remembers it well, noting, “I was super spoiled as a kid.”
Sabathia’s farewell in the Bay Area means so much as he returns to his roots for the final time during the regular season before the 39-year-old pitcher heads into retirement.
“This is always going to be a special trip to me,” said Sabathia, who will conclude his career following 19 big league seasons, the last 11 with the New York Yankees. “Just being here with my family, my kids getting to see Vallejo and hang out in Vallejo, my kids are there now, so it’s always a special time for us.”
As soon as Rickey Henderson walked onto the field before Tuesday’s series opener against the Athletics, Sabathia instructed his 15-year-old son, “Little C, get up, get up, right now!” to capitalize on a photo opportunity with the Hall of Famer, someone who “was a huge inspiration.”
“I don’t think I ever would want to face him. He was like that much of an idol for me,” Sabathia said Wednesday. “Just him being so fast, the way he hit balls, the way he pimped the homers. That was all appealing to me being an inner-city kid playing baseball. That’s the way we played watching him. It was awesome to see that.”
Sabathia was reminded he sat courtside at Golden State games in Oakland long before the Warriors became a dynasty.
“That’s what people don’t know, people always hate on me,” he said, chuckling. “People always hate on me because I was courtside before the Warriors got hot.”
He plans to be back for Raiders games this season and to see the Warriors at their new arena, Chase Center, in San Francisco. His relatives still live in Vallejo and Sabathia will regularly bring his four children here though they live full-time in New Jersey.
While Sabathia never received a formal offer from San Francisco in free agency before the 2009 season, he said the sides came close to negotiating terms. He grew up an A’s fan but always figured he might end up playing on the other side of the bay with the Giants.
In December 2008, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman left the winter meetings in Las Vegas for a quick trip into Oakland, then took a car service to Sabathia’s home in Vallejo and added a seventh year to the offer that was already on the table from about a month earlier to the 2006 AL Cy Young Award winner.
“It would’ve been cool, yeah,” he said of playing in San Francisco, “but this was the best thing for me, being able to come to New York, having a chance to win every year, being in the pinstripes has been a lot of fun. It’s my dad’s dream, so I’m glad I got a chance to live it out.”
It might have been cool to pitch once more in Oakland, too.
Not that Sabathia campaigned to take the Coliseum mound one last time. Sabathia returned from the injured list Sunday against Cleveland after missing 21 games with inflammation in his right knee.
“It’s team,” manager Aaron Boone said. “He lives that. He always has.”