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Sabathia preaches love for the game at clinic

Yankees lefty hosts more than 200 youngsters at ballpark in his hometown

VALLEJO, Calif. -- More than 200 youths gathered at a baseball field Saturday morning to listen to Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia and area coaches provide tips for executing the basics of fielding, hitting and pitching.

But the primary fundamental Sabathia wanted to emphasize was joy.

On behalf of his "PitCCh In Foundation," which he founded with his wife, Amber, Sabathia returned to his hometown to conduct his annual clinic at a field that bears his name. The event was coordinated by ProCamps, Inc., in conjunction with the North Vallejo Little League.

Sabathia, 33, acknowledged that baseball "is definitely dying in the inner cities. That's why we try to put on these camps and clinics and let the kids know that baseball is a fun game to play. I grew up playing it, so I want to share it with them."

The scene on the field across the street from Vallejo High School, Sabathia's alma mater, was festive. Speakers blared song after song, the young ballplayers cheered each other during drills and a coach playfully chided one boy for wearing a San Francisco 49ers cap (Vallejo is Oakland Raiders country) and another for sporting Dodgers headgear (this was northern California, after all).

That's the ambience Sabathia sought.

"We're out here playing music, the community is coming together -- it's just a great time," he said.

Producing potential big leaguers wasn't the clinic's objective. Fostering constructive exercise was more essential.

"You have some kids who may not be that interested in baseball, but being active and healthy is really what we're pushing," Amber Sabathia said. The message to parents, she added, was "keeping your kids active is really most important."

Ultimately, she concluded, "I think the goal is to have every child go home tonight saying, 'I had fun.'"

The enthusiasm proved to be so infectious that it enhanced CC Sabathia's eagerness to begin Spring Training next month.

"I'm ready to go, especially being out here," the 205-game winner said. "Being on the field and playing catch gets me going."

Sabathia's svelte physique suggested that only his appetite for baseball was whetted. Yet he downplayed his training regimen.

"Actually, I lost all the weight last year," said Sabathia, who recorded a career-high 4.78 ERA in 2013. "So this year was just about making sure I kept it off. I tried to put on muscle and stay healthy, and I've been able to do that. I feel pretty good and I'm excited about the year."

Chris Haft is a reporter for Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat.

New York Yankees, CC Sabathia