03/26/09 10:22 AM ET
CC gets both Opening Day assignments
Sabathia will start first regular season game at new Yankee Stadium
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
Sabathia will have his chance to experience the real thing right away. Yankees manager Joe Girardi confirmed on Thursday that Sabathia will not only start Opening Day on April 6 at Baltimore, but he is lined up to pitch the April 16 home opener at the new $1.5 billion facility.
"I'm excited to be able to take the ball the first game of the season and to open up the Stadium," Sabathia said. "It's going to be a lot of fun."
In the first year of a seven-year, $161 million contract with New York, Sabathia has been anointed as the staff ace, making him a natural choice to draw the high-profile assignment.
But because he is part of a rotation that also features Chien-Ming Wang, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain, Sabathia had continued to say that he did not know for sure if he would actually get the call for those games.
"I didn't assume anything," Sabathia said. "We've got so many great starters here, any one of us could start the game. I'm just excited that it's going to be me."
Girardi said that he informed Sabathia of his decision earlier in the week and that the left-hander did not seem fazed by the assignment, which will occur against the Cleveland Indians, for whom he pitched until last July.
"It was pretty low-key, his response," Girardi said. "I don't necessarily think he felt that way inside, but I caught him in the gym and he was working out, and he was kind of breathing hard. He seemed excited."
The first two games at Yankee Stadium will actually be played on April 3 and 4, as the Yankees host the Chicago Cubs for two exhibitions. Last week, Girardi said Wang will pitch the April 3 game while Burnett and Pettitte will share duties on April 4.
"I'm actually really glad that we're going to get a chance to play there before we 'play there,' in a sense," Girardi said. "I imagine it's going to be pretty energetic and electric [on April 16]. I think it's going to be an awesome experience. We'll be like little kids in a candy store."
After both Sabathia and Burnett were introduced in a dual press conference at the old Stadium on Dec. 18, the hurlers were led across 161st Street to the construction site for a hard-hat tour of the new Stadium.
"What really stood out is that it's huge, but it still kind of feels like the old Stadium," Sabathia said. "It looks like it and you get the same kind of feel of the old Stadium. I think that's what's pretty cool -- it is a brand-new stadium, it's got all these brand-new things and it's huge, but it's still got that Yankee Stadium feel."
Sabathia made five career starts at the old Yankee Stadium, but had not pitched there since 2004 with the Indians. He said that he was looking forward to having that energy on his side for a change, and said he has received a crash course on Yankees lore this spring.
"I think everybody knows what the Yankee history is," Sabathia said. "You played at the Stadium and they've got the 'Yankeeography' playing, and all the championships. Coming in, I was getting a feel for it, seeing all the old players around and talking to some of these guys. You have no choice but to embrace it and go out to be a part of something new."
Sabathia said that he will have his wife, Amber, and their three children on hand in the Bronx on April 16 to witness the first pitch along with countless other New Yorkers. Sabathia said that he has been peppered with questions about the new Stadium from those curious to know what it will be like in the Bronx.
"It's all anybody is talking about in the sports world, period," Sabathia said, "different athletes that are my friends and guys that I know around my hometown, and everywhere. To be able to be the guy that takes that ball is going to be fun."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.