Former New York Yankee CC Sabathia throws out the ceremonial...

Former New York Yankee CC Sabathia throws out the ceremonial first pitch before the team's home opener against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on Friday, July 31, 2020. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Throwing a pitch for a Yankees’ home opener was not all that unusual for CC Sabathia. He retired only last season.

But Friday night, the Stadium was empty, and it was Gerrit Cole crouching behind home plate, awaiting his ceremonial toss. Strange times, indeed.

So maybe that’s why Sabathia -- who threw 58,829 pitches in his 19-year career -- wound up short-hopping this one to Cole. Was it possible that Sabathia, now a special adviser to general manager Brian Cashman, might have been nervous?

“A little bit,” Sabathia said, smiling, “because that’s the furthest I’ve thrown a ball since that playoff game. Obviously, I’m not ready to throw off a mound yet, so it just reinforces my decision to retire.”

The last time Sabathia stood on that Bronx mound was Game 4 of the ALCS, when he was forced to exit because of a painful injury to his left shoulder joint. But Sabathia still appears in ballparks around the country with his cameo in a Players Alliance video that speaks up against racial injustice.

Sabathia, who turned 40 last month, said he’s “super-engaged” with the Players Alliance, a group of more than 100 current and former African-American players committed to “create increased opportunities for the Black community in every aspect of our games beyond,” according to its message statement.

“It’s awesome to be a part of with these guys,” Sabathia said. “I think the time is right to make a stand and try to make some change. So anything they want to get together and do in a peaceful protest, I think we’re all for.”

Sabathia wore a T-shirt to honor the Negro Leagues on Friday night. Other than the Players Alliance video, the pregame ceremonies for the Bronx opener did not feature the same moment of unity as Opening Day at Nationals Park. Also, no one took a knee during the national anthem, as Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton did the next night in D.C.

As familiar as the Stadium was for Sabathia, the different feel of this pandemic-tainted season overall would have been tough for him to handle. Sabathia was never the socially distanced type, and as a clubhouse leader who was always arranging team outings, these 2020 protocols would be impossible.

“I’d be such a bad teammate right now,” Sabathia said. “I would be complaining about everything. It’s almost good in a way that I’m not in there because of everything that’s going on.”

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