VALLEJO, Calif. - A West Coast trip never passes without CC Sabathia visiting some part of his hometown of Vallejo where the seeds for a major-league career were sown.
The big lefthander meets with friends from his neighborhood, former coaches and, of course, relatives.
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It is almost always an occasion for joy and yesterday was, as well, but there was an underlying melancholy.
With a day off before Sabathia takes the mound tonight, the lefthander was in Vallejo, along with his wife, Amber, as part of their PitCCh In Foundation, to dedicate the Demetrius C Davis Basketball Court.
Demetrius was Sabathia's older cousin, who passed away suddenly of a heart attack last December at age 43.
"Big brother, little brother," Sabathia said in characterizing the relationship. "He was definitely the reason I started playing sports. I just followed him around."
Demetrius was a star athlete, primarily in football, which allowed him to earn a scholarship as a tight end for the University of Nevada. He was good enough to get drafted by his hometown Raiders, with pick No. 331 in 1990.
"I got a lot of those jerseys and helmets," Sabathia, a big Raiders fan, said with a smile. "I remember getting some pretty cool stuff after he got drafted."
The basketball court is located at North Vallejo Park, which is walking distance from Dieninger, the street Sabathia grew up on. Sabathia, an only child, spent plenty of time there as a child with Demetrius, who suffered the heart attack while playing pickup basketball (though not at the park).
"It was shocking just because he was in good shape as an athlete," Sabathia said. "I miss him a lot. But it feels good to be able to come out here and do this for him."
Gloria Rufus, Demetrius' mother, teared up as she remembered her son but also because of the day's ceremony.
"No way I would have imagined this day," she said. "I thought that was just beautiful of CC and Amber to do this. To do this is just precious."
Larry Harper, founder of the Good Tidings Foundation, which oversaw the renovation project, said his organization works with "a lot" of professional athletes.
"No one's like CC," he said.
Talk to people around Vallejo and the word "local hero" gets tossed around. It is a description Sabathia, who took the ceremonial "first" shot on the court -- a top-of-the-arc three-pointer he bounced in -- isn't comfortable with.
"It feels good to be able to come home and do whatever you can in the community," Sabathia said. "I don't know if I'm a hero. I'm just a kid from Vallejo just trying to do right."
Notes & quotes: The Yankees concluded their draft over the weekend, in the end selecting 42 players. The breakdown: 21 pitchers (14 RHP, seven LHP), 10 infielders, 10 outfielders and one catcher. Of the picks, 27 were from the collegiate level and 15 from the high school ranks. "At this point, we feel good with the haul of players," director of scouting Damon Oppenheimer said yesterday afternoon on a conference call. "Of course, this time, you always feel good about it. Four years from now, you will know for sure." . . . Derek Jeter, who will visit with his surgeon later in the week hoping to receive the go-ahead to resume full baseball activities, did limited work on the field in Tampa yesterday, fielding grounders hit directly at him. Eduardo Nuñez (oblique) returned to the field after more than a week's absence, also fielding grounders.