Yankees' Sabathia makes PitCCh to help children

CC Sabathia at Loma Vista Elementary School handing

CC Sabathia at Loma Vista Elementary School handing out fully loaded backpacks on the first day of school. (Credit: handout/handout)

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VALLEJO, Calif. - CC Sabathia joked that the beads of sweat were from nerves.

"Coming here means so much, I just wanted to make sure I made a good impression," Sabathia said with a smile Wednesday morning.

He was here in his old stomping grounds where "it" all began, before the big-league victories, Cy Young Award and big free agent contract.

The 6-7, 290-pound Yankees pitcher, less than 12 hours after recording a victory in the stadium he frequented as a child, was home for real, making an appearance at Loma Vista Elementary.

"The cafeteria's a little smaller than I remember but it feels good to be back," Sabathia said.

Sabathia, as part of his PitCCh In Foundation, which assists inner city kids while helping raise self-esteem through sports and educational programs, came bearing gifts.

In two sessions, first to kids grades K-3 and later to the rest of the students, fourth and fifth graders, Sabathia distributed backpacks filled with binders, lined paper, rulers, erasers, pencil sharpeners and crayons. Also included in the 500 black backpacks bearing the Foundation logo, which were filled Monday night at a "bag-stuffing party" at his mother's nearby house, was an autographed action photo of Sabathia.

"If you can dream it, you can become it," was the caption above each signature.

Sabathia, before taking questions, gave a simple introductory message to the students:

You can get there from here.

"I grew up in this small community, went to these schools," said Sabathia, a graduate of Vallejo High School. "I sat in the same seats they're sitting in."

About 68 percent of Loma Vista's students are part of a free or reduced lunch program, according to principal Dolly McInnes, so the school supplies had a practical purpose beyond the message of the importance of education.

"We have a lot of kids who don't come to school with backpacks," McInnes said. "It's pivotal for them."

If a smile matched Sabathia's, it was that of his mother, Margie, who helped her son pass out the backpacks. Sabathia's wife of six years, Amber, was also there along with the couple's three children - Carsten Charles III, Jaden and Cyia.

Margie also attended Loma Vista and, after the PitCCh In program's founding in 2008, she hatched the idea that came to fruition Wednesday morning.

"I brought the idea to his attention and he just jumped on it," Margie said. "He loved it and was like, 'Oh my God, great idea. Let's do it.' It's a blessing that we're able to do it."

Sabathia also played basketball, football and soccer growing up and a collection of former youth league and high school coaches, as well as teachers, stood along the walls in the cafeteria.

Michael Wilson coached Sabathia when the lefty pitcher was a 6-5, 250-pound tight end that "no one could cover" at Vallejo High. "Unbelievably soft hands," said Wilson, who is also the school's track coach. "He could have definitely been a D-I football player."

Sabathia was known for his extensive charity work in Cleveland and plans to continue that work in New York.

He is building a home in Alpine, N.J., but maintains a home in nearby Fairfield and last March purchased a new house close by for his mother.

Vallejo always has been, and will continue to be, a central part of the pitcher's life.

"He comes over to the high school and talks to the kids all the time, just hangs out on the track with me," Wilson said. "He'll come out and talk to the kids, and that's important to the kids to actually see that this guy that I see on TV is actually a human being. That he's just like I am."

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