All-Star Game gives CC Sabathia, Indians fans a chance to look back: ‘Thank you. And I love you.’

CLEVELAND – There was a pregame speech, a ceremonial first pitch and finally, in the ninth inning of this 90th All-Star Game, a mound visit, activities ostensibly preparing CC Sabathia for retirement. 

Yet the burly left-hander's two days as an honorary American League All-Star were really an appropriate glance into his past and a place that made him. 

Now 43 and the owner of 251 major league victories and one Cy Young Award, Sabathia will walk away from baseball a New York Yankee, where he made most of his money and won his lone World Series title. 

But before it ends, a word about Cleveland. 

"It will always be special," Sabathia said, standing in the clubhouse that was his home from 2001-2008, when a midseason trade sent him for a half-season stopover in Milwaukee. "It will always feel like a place where I grew up.

"I came here at 17 years old, like a boy, left here 27 years old, with three kids, a grown man."

CC Sabathia waves to the Cleveland fans. (Photo: Ken Blaze, USA TODAY Sports)

Tuesday, he was a man among many players not far removed from boyhood. Baseball is skewing younger, and this game featured 36 first-time All-Stars, most since 2013. Ten All-Stars were younger than 25, 19 younger than 26. NL starting center fielder Ronald Acuña Jr. was 10 years old when Sabathia last pitched in Cleveland. 

So maybe the world needed a reminder of his impact here. 

"We wanted to let everybody know who he is," said Boston Red Sox and AL manager Alex Cora. 

So Sabathia teamed up with old Indians batterymate Sandy Alomar Jr. on the ceremonial first pitch, getting chided by the 53-year-old one more time for leaving it up in the strike zone. 

Cora later asked if he wanted to make a mound visit, and so Sabathia greeted Yankee teammate and closer Aroldis Chapman before the Chapman began the ninth nursing a one-run lead.

"I got nervous when I got out there," Sabathia said. "Like, what am I supposed to say? And if he gets a hit after that, it’s my fault." 

Chapman struck out the side. 

And before all of that, Cora asked Sabathia to address the AL All-Stars, a speech the lefty termed "terrible." 

The many pairs of wide eyes in the room disputed that. 

"It was amazing," said Tampa Bay outfielder Austin Meadows, 24.

Says Orioles rookie lefty John Means: "It was really cool feeling his presence in this locker room. He’s 6-8, a big guy in general, but his presence, the way he talks, everybody turns and listens. So when he gives a speech, everybody’s locked in and ready to learn something." 

Five Yankees earned All-Star berths and their fingerprints were everywhere: Masahiro Tanaka the winning pitcher, Chapman the save, Gary Sanchez a double and run scored, Gleyber Torres the first of what could be many All-Star hits.

At 57-31, they may yet send Sabathia out a champion. For two days at Progressive Field, however, it was OK to look back a little, an opportunity Sabathia clearly relished.

"Thank you. And I love you," he said of his message to Clevelanders. "My one regret in my career is not winning a championship here." 

That love is clearly mutual.

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