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CC makes final trip to Cleveland meaningful

@MandyBell02
June 7, 2019

CLEVELAND -- It all started on April 8, 2001, at Jacobs Field. CC Sabathia, then a 20-year-old rookie, took the mound for the first time in what would become a 19-year Major League career on a 73-degree day against Cal Ripken Jr. and the Orioles. "It definitely went by super

CLEVELAND -- It all started on April 8, 2001, at Jacobs Field.

CC Sabathia, then a 20-year-old rookie, took the mound for the first time in what would become a 19-year Major League career on a 73-degree day against Cal Ripken Jr. and the Orioles.

"It definitely went by super fast,” Sabathia said. “It's funny, because when I came here, I was the youngest guy on the team. Now I'm the oldest guy here. I always remembered the guys that helped me, so you want to be that guy now. I'm loving being the old, veteran guy and trying to help this club win a championship."

From that up-and-coming star with Jim Thome, Roberto Alomar, Omar Vizquel and Russell Branyan filling the infield behind him, to a quick stop in Milwaukee before donning the pinstripes, Sabathia’s career is about to come full circle.

On Saturday, more than 18 years after picking up his first victory in his debut, the 38-year-old Sabathia will make his final regular-season trip to the mound at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario with a chance to secure his 250th career win.

Sabathia's outing can be watched live on FS1 and MLB.TV, with first pitch scheduled for 4:10 p.m. ET.

“What I don’t think he ever got enough credit for was, you know, the athlete he was,” Indians manager Terry Francona said prior to Friday's series opener between the Indians and Yankees. “And what I would marvel at, and still do, is how he can manipulate the ball. And by that I don’t mean by cheating, I mean, just ... You watch him just throw, it’s so natural. … He’s been doing it for a long time. He’s not the power pitcher he used to be, but he’s got such a good touch and feel that, I think, that gets overlooked.”

But Sabathia’s connection to Cleveland stretches far beyond the ballpark. He and his wife, Amber, bought a home in Westlake, where three of his four children were raised. One final stop to northeast Ohio as an active player meant taking a trip down memory lane.

“It’s so meaningful to be in the city and especially here, this is our first home, really, where he [started his career],” Amber said. “Today we went and saw our old home that we first bought together. … It means so much being here. You get the chills, I do, coming here and seeing the field.”

And although Sabathia was able to stop at his favorite restaurant in his former hometown, Dave’s Cosmic Subs, the highlight of the afternoon was seeing the basketball court in front of his old house.

“The court that my dad put up is still there,” he said. “That court still being there means a lot, because he worked so hard on that and it was a big deal he was able to do that. The fact that it's still there, it was pretty cool to see that."

Sabathia also found time to dig even deeper into his roots.

Growing up, Sabathia was a part of the Boys & Girls Club in Vallejo, Calif., where his dream of becoming a Major Leaguer was born.

“He’s always told this story of Dave Stewart [coming] to his Boys & Girls Club when he was on the A’s,” Amber said. “And he said it was seeing him, seeing a fellow African American, knowing, ‘I can become a baseball player. I can do this.’”

Now it’s CC's turn to be the one who inspires.

Sabathia has made it a part of his "farewell" tour to host 52 kids -- the number on his uniform -- from the Boys & Girls Clubs in each city he visits for the final time. Each child is provided with food vouchers and a meet-and-greet with the man himself before the game.

“Just telling the kids, ‘I went to the Club. I was just like you. Follow your dreams. You can be whatever you want to be,’” Amber said. “I said, ‘What’s more impactful than going to every city and doing it?’ So then came the LegaCCy season.”

Sabathia answered questions from his guests, asked all of them what they enjoy doing at their Boys & Girls Clubs, and took pictures and signed autographs. Just before he headed back to the clubhouse, a little girl asked, "Why are you retiring?"

Sabathia responded: “I figured I’d get out before they kick me out.”

Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.