David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
TAMPA, Fla. - Those pictures were real.
No camera tricks, no photo-shop edits. It was indeed a drastically slimmed-down CC Sabathia that you saw on the Internet this winter. Posing with his wife, Amber, in a tuxedo. Hanging in jeans and a hoodie at a Knicks game.
And standing in the Steinbrenner Field clubhouse Friday morning, Sabathia looked . . . well . . . sort of thin. Not skinny, but definitely trim, a version of him we've never before seen in pinstripes.
A year ago, the 6-7 Sabathia said he arrived in Tampa weighing about 290 pounds, already 25 pounds lighter than his usual 315. Now he has plunged further to 275, which has him looking more like a pass-catching tight end than an offensive tackle.
But how relevant is all this chatter about his weight?
Without seeing him throw a pitch yet, sizing up Sabathia is the only thing we're able to do, and nobody has a clue what it all means performance-wise at this early stage.
For Sabathia, however, it is personally significant. Shedding pounds became important to him two Decembers ago when he lost his cousin, Demetrius Davis, to heart disease at the age of 45. That's what initially spurred Sabathia, but he now figures he dropped too much too fast heading into the '13 season.
"I felt like 'The Biggest Loser' last year," Sabathia joked, referring to the TV show of the same name. "I lost a lot of weight but I just wasn't physically ready to go out and play."
Complicating things was the offseason elbow surgery in 2012 that didn't allow him to begin throwing until January, a delay in building arm strength that seemed to be reflected in his diminished velocity. His average speed for his four-seam fastball last April was 89 mph and he managed to crank it up to only 91 for the month of September. Two years earlier, at season's end, Sabathia's average velocity for the same time period was 94.34, according to PITCH f/x.
That's not the only reason for Sabathia's disappointing season, when he finished with a career-worst 4.78 ERA and allowed a career-high 28 home runs in 211 innings. He's learning to pitch with less heat, which is a reality of having 2,7751/3 innings on his left arm as well as turning 34 this July. But he started his throwing program earlier this offseason -- he began tossing a football back in October -- which gave him more time to become comfortable with his thinner frame. He's noticed the difference.
"Just a little more power," he said. "I'm getting my arm where it needs to be. Just getting my mechanics together. I feel like I've done that this offseason, so I feel good."
Like an '85 Buick, there's no turning back the odometer on Sabathia. The wear-and-tear for a pitcher in his mid-30s is a legitimate concern. But pushing himself to be in better shape probably is the only way to combat those issues.
The recent numbers suggest that a heavier Sabathia is a more effective one, but judging from what he said Friday, he's done pitching at 300-plus pounds.
And Sabathia thinks it can work. Haunted by his 2013 failures, he can't live through that again -- and the Yankees aren't likely to be a World Series threat with that type of Sabathia, either. Even the postseason could be out of reach.
"It sticks with me a lot," Sabathia said. "I feel like if I could have been a little better, we might have made the playoffs. I blamed myself for a long time in the offseason. Now it's over."
Before Sabathia even steps on the Steinbrenner Field mound, he knows what he's accomplished. One look at his family, and the desire to have a long future together, tells him that.
As for losing the mojo of his rounder self, or Sabathia being superstitious about changing the body and the lifestyle that made him what he is, he smiled.
"Nah," he said. "Being a fat guy is different than wearing the same glove. You know what I mean? We'll see this year. I feel like I did two years ago. A lot stronger. I just feel healthy. I'm ready to go."