NEW YORK — CC Sabathia wiped tears with his hands and the top of his size 56 jersey. Honored at Yankee Stadium ahead of his retirement at season’s end, his sentimental side emerged as his wife, mother and children read tributes during a video displayed on the centre field scoreboard.
"This is the first time I got emotional," Sabathia said after the New York Yankees‘ regular season home finale Sunday against Toronto.
True to his nature, the 39-year-old left-hander thanked the training and clubhouse staff by name. He watched retirement ceremonies for Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte, but this was different.
"It’s kind of surreal," he said. "To have a day for myself feels weird."
Sabathia was given a lap around the field in a golf cart, passing the bullpen that will be his home during the post-season.
He was presented with art by Charles Fazzino portraying his accomplishments, and the Yankees announced they were giving the Sabathia family a 10-day vacation to Japan.
Sabathia spoke briefly and posed for photos with his family and the entire team. He threw out the ceremonial first pitch to his 60-year-old mom — Margie was his first catcher.
He started crying during the video produced by Brandon Mihm, Brian Spector and Nick Tyrell of the Yankees staff, unable to contain himself when his family read the tribute letters. Sitting in the dugout, Brett Gardner told teammate Aaron Boone he had to put on sunglasses to hide his tears.
"I was crying," manager Aaron Boone said. "I almost had to go down in the tunnel. I was about to lose it really, really bad."
Sabathia envisions a future role with the Yankees, perhaps as an adviser or instructor.
"I just feel like I’m going to be here," he said in the clubhouse, where gifts commemorating Sabathia’s career were placed on the chair of every teammate. "I’m not going anywhere. I live here. I’ll be at the Stadium."
Sabathia was drafted 20th overall by Cleveland in 1998 from Vallejo High School near San Francisco. Sabathia made his big league debut in 2001 and was 17-5 in his first season.
"When I showed up, I didn’t plan on playing this long," he said. "I’m from Vallejo. I’m from the inner city. I’m from the hood, so just making it was a big deal. So I never really thought past that first year."
Sabathia is 5-8 with a 4.99 ERA over 22 starts, a season interrupted by four trips to the disabled list because of a chronically bad right knee that one day will require replacement surgery.
His is 251-161 with a 3.74 ERA and 3,091 strikeouts in a big league career that began in Cleveland from 2001-08 and included a brief stay in Milwaukee before he signed with the Yankees in December 2008. A six-time All-Star, he won the 2007 AL Cy Young Award and was MVP of the Yankees’ win over the Angels in the 2009 AL Championship Series. He made a pair of starts for New York in the World Series win over Philadelphia.
"Nineteen years of kind of pitching the way that I have, like emotionally, I’m kind of exhausted," he said. "It will be good next year to just kind of give that a break and my body a break, but I’ll definitely miss the guys, the relationships I have in here."
New York seems set on a post-season rotation of Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, Luis Severino. Sabathia and J.A. Happ are switching to a relief role.
Sabathia pitched out of the bullpen just once, when he allowed a run at Detroit as the Yankees lost Game of the AL Division Series. He will start at inning Tuesday at Tampa Bay, then pitch again next weekend at Texas, perhaps entering mid-inning.
"I’m nervous. I’m excited," he said. "I don’t know what to expect."
Sabathia has heard the debate over whether he is worthy of the Hall of Fame. He’s watched Mariano Rivera celebrated for his induction this year and anticipates Derek Jeter getting enshrined next summer.
"I’ve seen all the parties and stuff," he said. "I love parties, so it would be fun to get in."