CONCORD, Calif. – CC Sabathia hoped to be pitching alongside close pal Cliff Lee again next year, reunited in Yankees pinstripes.
Instead, Lee turned down an extra $30 million to return to the Philadelphia Phillies with a five-year deal that guarantees him $120 million. Sabathia, having gone through the free agency process himself just two years ago before landing a $161 million, seven-year contract from New York, wasn't about to beg or bug baseball's biggest offseason prize.
As a father of four children ages 7 and under, Sabathia fully understands making a decision based on family, what feels right for the future and loyalty. In fact, the left-handed ace — fully recovered from recent right knee surgery — is back home in his native Bay Area for a whirlwind week of goodwill events to help his downtrodden hometown of Vallejo as part of his "CC's Christmas Caravan."
"I'm excited for him," Sabathia said Wednesday, while entertaining some 20 needy and troubled teens as they purchased clothes, shoes and athletic gear through his PitCCh In Foundation and later went to lunch. "As part of the Yankee family and organization I'm disappointed. As a family friend, I'm happy he's in the place he wanted to be. You have to do what makes you happy and what's best for your family. It's a long time. Five years is a long time, seven years is a long time."
For years now, Sabathia has been giving back in the very place he grew up, including refurbishing his former Little League field and his projects this week. On Thursday, he and wife, Amber, and his mother, Margie, will visit a Victorian home in Vallejo they have helped make over. It serves as a clean and sober living environment for women recovering from alcohol or drug addiction.
While Sabathia now spends much of his time in New Jersey, he still has a home in nearby Fairfield.
"I grew up here. It's just a really tight, close-knit community," said Sabathia, taking a short break from signing baseballs and posing for photos. "A lot of people have family roots there, and I'm one of them. I just feel like any chance I get to do anything I can for the kids, I'm there for them."
He helped 17-year-old Travis Smith-Fox, who is working to finish his GED, pick out a pair of charcoal gray shoes to wear for skateboarding. Each teen had $250 to spend in the form of "PitCCh In Bucks."
"I know they don't have my size in here," quipped Sabathia, who wears size-15 shoes.
Early next week, Sabathia and family are headed on a Hawaiian holiday to truly relax.
His mom has been happy to have him home for a quick trip.
"Home is so dear to his heart," she said. "He's so serious about it. He loves it."
After going 21-7 and finishing third in AL Cy Young Award voting, Sabathia had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in late October to repair a partially torn meniscus, the same procedure he had in 2006 when still pitching alongside Lee in Cleveland.
"I'm feeling good," Sabathia said. "I wasn't really worried about the surgery because I had it before. It was just swelling up on me after starts during the year, just achy pain that affected me while I was pitching."
Sabathia has lost 15 pounds from his 6-foot-7 frame through a tough offseason training program of cardiovascular workouts and weight training. His knee recovered in just less than a month after the procedure, so he is well into his full exercise program and playing light catch.
He hopes to lose an additional 15 pounds before the season starts.
"I'm turning 30 this year, getting a little older," he said, chuckling. "Hopefully it will take some pressure off my knee and extend my career."
Sabathia spoke to Lee several times during the free agency process and again after Lee's decision. The two plan to go fishing during spring training.
"Just knowing what it's like to go through that, you don't want somebody calling you all the time," Sabathia said. "He knew what the Yankees could offer and what New York would bring and that I loved it over there. We're pretty close. I didn't want to keep bugging him with it. Everybody was like, 'Did you make a pitch?' For what?"