CC blending in perfectly with Yanks
Ace lefty has been organizing get-togethers with teammates this spring
TAMPA, Fla. -- The 162-game schedule insists that a baseball team spend more time together than with its wives and children. That regular-season grind told CC Sabathia it'd be smart for the Yankees to become their own family.
Beginning the process to combat Spring Training downtime, the left-hander stepped into a role of group organizer, his cohesive personality drawing the Bombers together for dinners and courtside seats at Orlando Magic games.
"I don't know if I'm a leader," Sabathia said. "I like to hang out with my teammates. I like to get to know them. Going to Magic games and going out to eat, I just feel like that's something guys on the same team should always do. If I'm a leader in that regard, I guess. But I'm just trying to get to know my guys."
On any other team, Sabathia's arrival would have been the premier story of camp, making him a focal point night and day. His husky 6-foot-7 frame makes it impossible for him to blend in, but another typically crazy Yankees spring has allowed him to spend time out of the glare of the New York spotlight.
"It just allows him to be him, and that's a good person," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "That's a gentleman who brings a club closer together, and he's been like glue in a sense. I think it's good that he's been under the radar. His presence is something special, and I think he reels everyone in."
A.J. Burnett, Brian Bruney, Joba Chamberlain and Chien-Ming Wang are members of the crew that have traveled north to Orlando, taking in NBA action and spending a few hours getting to know each other better.
"You can't not get along with CC, that's for sure," Burnett said. "He's one of the best competitors out there. When we all share the same passion for pitching, it makes it a lot easier. When somebody is the same guy every day and is a good dude, you want to be around that. It's going to bring the good out of you."
In his first spring as New York's ace after signing a seven-year, $161 million deal as a free agent, Sabathia said that he is just doing what he feels naturally, and not responding to any perceived feelings of responsibility because of his status.
Said Girardi: "I think he looks at it as, 'I'm CC, and I'm doing what I do.'"
Of Sabathia's new teammates, he may share the closest link with Burnett, considering they both entered the Yankees universe on the same cold December morning.
Having never spoken to each other before they signed, Sabathia and Burnett both rolled up outside the old Yankee Stadium, seeing the words, "Let's Play Two: CC & A.J." on the message boards. Whatever was ahead for their pinstriped future, Sabathia and Burnett knew they were going in together.
"It was just a really special day, the fact that we could both be in there in suits in the Boss's office, signing our contracts together in Yankee Stadium. It was an amazing feeling," Burnett said.
"I just think that we both see what we have, what we can offer, what we can bring to the table, and we both respect one another's abilities and pitching. I think that's the main reason we all click together. We're all feeding each other."
The group unity has extended to cyberspace. Burnett said that several members of the Yankees' staff have also become wrapped up in playing the shooter game "Call of Duty" on Xbox, linking their platoons as they go off to virtual war from their living rooms.
"I have to give CC the upper hand right now, because he plays it a little more than I do," Burnett said. "I fish a lot."
Another trusted buddy has been Chamberlain, who first met Sabathia while jogging in the outfield before an Indians-Yankees game in 2007. They swapped text messages often afterward, and now that they are teammates, Chamberlain has made even more of an effort to include Sabathia.
"I don't care who you are, I know how uncomfortable it is going to new places," Chamberlain said. "I think he has a great personality to make it easier for him. It makes him feel more a part of the team from the get-go. We just have fun and relax, and make it as fun as we can."
The Yankees love the fact that Sabathia is instantly popular, but it is a bonus. Sabathia is being paid big dollars to pitch, not to talk, and the Yankees believe he will do so at a high level.
"It means a lot to our club and a lot to our bullpen," Girardi said. "It's a guy that's used to winning games. Every club wants to have guys like that. Some clubs say it's great to have innings-eaters. CC is an innings-eater and a winner. That's the best combination that you could have."
Having led the Brewers to the playoffs for the first time since 1982, Sabathia said that his July 7 trade opened his eyes, something that has eased his transition. Instead of only calling Cleveland home, Sabathia is simply re-adjusting to a new room for the second time in less than 12 months.
"I think getting traded to Milwaukee last year definitely helped me out, to be more comfortable and be myself early on," Sabathia said. "I think, had I come straight from Cleveland and not being in another organization, it would have been a little tougher. Going to a different clubhouse and seeing that it was pretty much the same, it helped."
A virtual lock as New York's Opening Day starter, Sabathia remained behind at camp on Sunday, pitching five sharp innings against Pirates farmhands and feeling out his process with catcher Jorge Posada.
His family is making its own successful transition to pinstripes. Moments after Sabathia finished working out, his wife, Amber, rolled a stroller over a dirt pathway. Sabathia's 5-year-old, Carsten Charles III, followed close behind, and dad said that his son has been especially proud of showing off his new Yankees backpack and watch.
"And he gets to wear a Yankees uniform, too," Sabathia said. "He's excited."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.