AT 26 THE Indians'ace is beginning his seventh big league season (career record: 81--56) and is amajor reason SI picked Cleveland to win the AL Central. One of only twoprominent African-American starting pitchers in the majors—the Marlins'Dontrelle Willis is the other—Sabathia has called the scarcity of black majorleaguers "a crisis." Personally, though, times are good. Set to earn$8.75 million this year, the Vallejo, Calif., native is married to his highschool sweetheart, has two kids and he's getting giddy: The season opener isjust days away.
I had surgery on my right knee, and I started two-a-day workouts in December. Iwould go from 9:30 to 11:30 and from 2:30 to 4:30. Lift, run, upper body. Ilost 10, 15 pounds. This is going to be my third time pitching Opening Day, andit's exciting. Being able to set the tone for the team is big.
On the Indians'improved bullpen
It takes stress off. It doesn't change what you do, but you don't feel likeI've got to get this out, finish the inning. You stick to your strategy, andwhen you're done, you've got the horses behind you. You feel at ease coming outof a game.
On his full name,Carsten Charles
My dad was the first, I'm a junior, and my son is the third. I call him Lil' C.My dad passed away in December '03, and I wear a black bracelet on my wrist toremember him. I haven't taken it off in three years.
On his mom,Margie
She used to put on full catcher's gear to catch me. I wouldn't do it unless shehad on all the gear. I'd pitch to her for half an hour every day after school.She was a great athlete—she played fast-pitch softball in a league. We did thatuntil I was about 12, and I started throwing too hard for her. One day I hither right on the palm, and that was it. She threw her glove down and walkedoff.
On his social lifeas a teenager
My mom worked nights as a telephone operator at Travis Air Force Base. She'dleave at 11 p.m., come back at eight a.m.—perfect party hours. We'd have bigparties until 7:30 then clean up. She never caught us.
On people who tellhim, at 290 pounds, to lose weight
What do you want me to do? I'm a big guy [6'7"]. I'm an only child, but mycousins, my uncles, everybody's huge, 6'5", 6'6", 250. My grandfatherwas nearly 6'9". I work my ass off every day, so whoever wants to criticizeme, tell them to come work out with me one day and see if they can hang.
My wife [Amber] makes me a grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich on white breadbefore every home start. That's my only superstition—it's been working.
On his kids
C.C. is three, my daughter Jaden is one. C.C. can hit a ball to the infielddirt. He's huge for his age, 3 1/2 feet, 45 pounds. When he was 1 1/2, peoplewere like, Man, why does he still have a pacifier? And I'm like, He's still ababy!
Love it. Off-season I take BP a few times a week with my high school coach. Itry to get Eric [Wedge, Cleveland's manager] to put me in to pinch-hit; he'lljust laugh. I love interleague. I hit a bomb against Cincinnati—my bestbaseball moment. I tried to put my head down and look humble, but once Irounded third and looked in the dugout, I couldn't stop cheesin'.
PHOTOGRAPH BY AL TIELEMANS
DAMIAN STROHMEYER (SABATHIA INSET)