Mom always 'Parent of the Year' in CC's book
Yankees ace's mother honored at Little League World Series
NEW YORK -- Margie Sabathia watched on from the stands last week in South Williamsport, Pa., seeing a blur of colors whiz past, taking in the pageantry of the Little League World Series.
And as the innings flew by and those players went deeper into the biggest games of their young lives, the thought couldn't help but cross her mind: How could CC have ever been that small?
"It is really hard for me to imagine that he was in a uniform that size," she said, laughing. "I looked at the kids and I was like, 'Wow!' It was unbelievable."
Sabathia was invited to be part of the World Series, honored as the Little League's Parent of the Year -- a recognition of the work she and CC have performed in their hometown of Vallejo, Calif., which included restoring the North Vallejo field where CC pitched his first innings and hit his first home run.
Working with Little League, as well as the Yankees ace's PitCCh In Foundation, has filled Margie's calendar, though she knows exactly where she'll be on the days that her son gets the ball -- as he will Thursday against the A's, his boyhood favorite team.
Margie's day will be filled by balls and strikes, just as it was so many years ago. And by the time her son touches the sixth or seventh inning, Margie will already have pulled out the Yankees' schedule, counting off the days in advance to figure out who CC will be pitching against next.
"I laughed when I was watching the kids, because this is when it was really, really fun," Margie said. "Now, every five days, I'm nervous. CC tells me all the time, 'Mom, you've got to relax and enjoy.' I do enjoy watching him out there pitching, but I'm so nervous. What parent doesn't want their son to win?"
CC Sabathia said that it was "awesome" to see his mom receiving recognition for her efforts in the community, but evidence of her influence is actually on display in front of a national audience every time the left-hander takes the mound. Without his mom, Sabathia does not believe he could have made it to Yankee Stadium.
"She was tough," CC said. "I don't want to say I was a crybaby, but I guess I had poor sportsmanship. She would never allow that, she would never stand for that. She sent me home on occasions from the field. But she was supportive -- at every game and practice, never let me miss anything. She's definitely the reason why I'm here."
There was one occasion in particular that sticks out in Margie's mind, and it occurred when CC was about 12 years old, in North Vallejo. Already a noted slugger on the days he played first base, CC was also becoming a standout pitcher and wasn't prepared for the idea of failure.
"Another kid probably about his size -- and there weren't many that were CC's size -- hit a home run," Margie recalled. "And [CC] would always pull his cap down, because he didn't want anybody to see he was crying.
"So he was out there on the mound, crying, and I took him off the field. I said, 'Are you really seriously crying because this dude hit a home run? Dry up the tears or you won't go back on the field.'"
Obviously, Margie eventually allowed CC to get back between the white lines, and she believes that was a turning point -- in the games that followed, CC still yanked the cap down, but no one ever saw another tear trickle down his cheek.
"I just hated to lose. Hated it," CC said. "I just needed to understand that you can't win every game and you can't play well every time. She definitely helped me learn that lesson.
"I used to always cry, but this particular time she must have gotten mad. She pulled me out of the game. She had to be tough, because my dad [Corky] was traveling a lot at that time. She was really the one that was always there."
She was there even when a burly kid with an accelerating fastball needed to air out his left arm, bouncing a baseball in the house with ideas of playing catch in the backyard.
CC may do most of his work these days with Jorge Posada and Francisco Cervelli, but they are all part of a long lineage of catchers that runs right back to Mom -- in a way, CC's first bullpen catcher.
A former fast-pitch softball player, Margie can remember snapping on shin guards and pounding a glove onto her hand to make sure CC would be ready for his next game. But that could only last so long.
"He'd be on a pretend mound in the backyard, firing the ball to me," Margie said. "I really enjoyed it, because I played [ball] myself. And then we were out there one day, and this dude threw the ball at me so hard, it actually scared me.
"I had to whip that ball away from my face. I took off the glove and said, 'You're done. You've got to find someone else to catch you. Mom can't do it anymore.'"
But the duties of helping CC grow into the man he'd become -- ace of the Yankees, seemingly on the way to his first 20-win season, and now the father of four children of his own -- were well within Margie's realm.
And even though the tear ducts won't be tempted to run Thursday, should an Oakland hitter send a ball over the wall, CC will still tug on his hat and remember some of the lessons he learned from Mom back in North Vallejo, so ingrained today that they define who he is.
"My mom taught me just to be humble and not get a big head," Sabathia said. "I'd hit a couple of home runs or do something good and she would always say, 'There's a kid across town who is just as good as you, so you'd better keep working.'"
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.