CLEVELAND -- CC Sabathia had a front-row seat for both Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter’s retirement tours as the baseball world celebrated their legendary careers in back-to-back seasons.
So when Major League Baseball reached out to him to invite him to the 2019 MLB All-Star Game to honor him for his contributions to both the game and community, Sabathia was honored -- and slightly confused.
“I never considered myself to be this big of a player to be here, but when Alex [Cora, Red Sox and American League manager] called and the league was receptive to it, I was all for being here,” Sabathia said. “My family is excited. It’s an honor.”
Sabathia made it official prior to the season that 2019 would be his swan song, but even that announcement took some prodding by the Yankees.
“Even when they wanted me to announce my retirement, I was like, ‘For what? Nobody is going to care. I’m not Derek Jeter,’” Sabathia said. “The way the people have received it and been honoring me, it’s been really cool. I honestly didn’t really think that I was on that level, but to be here is a blessing and is humbling.”
Sabathia won’t participate in the game itself -- “That’s the best part,” Sabathia chuckled -- but he’ll be front and center before the All-Star Game begins, throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.
Being honored at any All-Star Game would have been special for Sabathia, but the fact that tonight's game will be held at Progressive Field -- his first home ballpark in the Majors -- makes it even more meaningful.
Sabathia pitched parts of eight seasons (2001-08) for the Indians, going 106-71 with a 3.83 ERA. He made three All-Star teams with Cleveland and won the 2007 AL Cy Young Award, helping the Tribe reach the postseason in 2001 and 2007.
“To be here and have it kind of come full circle from where I started, pulling into the hotel today, thinking about when I was 17 years old, coming here for my press conference, it’s pretty cool,” Sabathia said. “Getting here when I was 20 years old, pitching here for so long, pitching in some playoff games. My kids were born here. This is a special place for me and my family to be able to come back here.”
A month ago, Sabathia pitched for the final time in Cleveland, where the Indians honored him with a video tribute that brought about a huge ovation from the crowd. The lefty assumed that would be his final time on the field here, but MLB’s invitation to take part in this week’s festivities has given him one more opportunity to say goodbye to the city that embraced him as one of its own after the Indians made him a first-round Draft pick in 1998.
“That was a cool thing to be able to come here and have the tribute, play the video on the board, that was exciting enough,” Sabathia said. “To be able to come back here is an honor; to have the league wanting me to come back, it’s cool.”
Sabathia’s teammates -- there are five Yankees on the AL All-Star squad -- were thrilled to be able to share this experience with their friend.
“It’s an honor for me,” Gary Sanchez said through a translator. “Not just because it’s the All-Star Game, but because it’s his last season in Major League Baseball. He’s always been someone that the young guys have been able to lean on for advice and guidance. He’s meant a lot to me personally in my career.”
“It speaks of how much he means to the game of baseball,” Masahiro Tanaka said through a translator. “I feel fortunate to be able to be his teammate. To be a part of this together, to see him be honored, it’s really great.”
Sabathia will be in the clubhouse with the AL team tonight, though he’s hoping nobody asks him to make a speech. For the 38-year-old, getting a chance to experience one last All-Star week is more than enough.
“This is all so great,” Sabathia said. “Just being here for the Derby, kind of hanging out and kind of being a fake All-Star, it’s cool.”