CC Sabathia on the World Series and why baseball is a family affair

November 1, 2022 | By Ben Fox Rubin

CC Sabathia’s love for baseball started as a kid, when his dad would take him to Oakland A’s games or they’d ride the ferry over from Vallejo to see the San Francisco Giants.

He developed into a pitching talent, got drafted in 1998 and debuted with the Cleveland Indians in 2001. He retired after 19 years — the last 11 with the New York Yankees — becoming a six-time All-Star and World Series champ. In his final season he reached 3,000 career strikeouts and 250 wins.

Now his wife Amber is an MLB agent, and his son Carsten, a freshman at Georgia Tech, is charting his own path as the next generation of Sabathias with potential to reach the major leagues.

It’s because Sabathia and his family have become such a big part of baseball that Mastercard invited him to star in a new Priceless commercial that’s airing during the World Series. The ad came out 25 years after the original Priceless spot, about a father and son bonding at a baseball game. For Sabathia, it’s a nostalgic throwback to those ferry rides to Giants games.

During the 2022 World Series, the Mastercard Newsroom got a chance to chat with Sabathia. The Q&A below was edited for length and clarity.

We’re celebrating this 25-year anniversary of the Priceless campaign. What was evocative about the original ad was this bonding experience over baseball between a father and son. What’s significant, what’s sentimental for you about the game?

Sabathia: Oh, I think my family. My family being a baseball family. Back when the first Priceless commercial aired, I was 17 years old. I was starting my baseball journey — I got drafted that season. And now, 25 years later, coming full circle, and four kids later with one starting his baseball journey at Georgia Tech. My wife’s an agent in the game. I’m working for Major League Baseball. I played 19 years, but it feels like it was all a dream. It was just icing on the cake being able to play 11 years in New York, winning the championship with the greatest franchise of all time. My baseball story is a fairy tale. And it kind of played out through the last 25 years of watching the first commercial until me being in this commercial this summer. In this commercial, me walking down the street watching kids play baseball — it’s something that I did as a kid, you know, literally playing baseball all day during the summer out in the middle of the street. It’s a story that’s true to me.

You mentioned your son. Going back to the original Priceless commercial, it talks about this generational connection. You have that right now with your son.

Sabathia: Even more so was the connection that I had with my grandfather and my dad with baseball. Up until my dad passed away, when I was 23 years old, in the offseason when I was in the minor leagues, we would go to Giants games. I grew up in Vallejo, California, and we could catch the ferry from my hometown to San Francisco. That’s something that is a part of my growing up — going to baseball games with my dad, whether Oakland A’s games, but even more so in my later teen years, it was reconnecting with my dad and going to a lot of Giants games. Baseball is something that’s in my blood. I just grew up in a baseball family. My dad loved it, my grandfather loved it. To still have that connection with both of my boys and my girls too — my girls love the game. They were calling me to see Aaron Judge break the record this summer.

What advice would you give your son now that he’s at Georgia Tech? There’s this exciting path where he could make it into MLB too.

Sabathia: Yeah, my biggest advice: Just stay on the path and enjoy the journey. My kid is super mature, man. I have to give Amber a lot of credit for the way she raised him. Obviously, I was playing a lot of the summers when he was growing up, and he’s just so mature in his thinking — him even picking Georgia Tech and understanding that they develop players and wanting to get better in his journey. So my advice always to him is just to work hard. Don’t take anything for granted. And go out and work hard every day, and he’s proved to do that.

You were drafted in ’98. Twenty-five years later, how has baseball changed? How’s the fan experience changed?

Sabathia: I think in the last 25 years, the game has grown so much, and the athletes are so much better than they were even when I first came up. The average fastball now is 96 miles an hour; when I came up, it was 90. So the athletes are a lot better. These kids, they take care of their bodies a lot better than we did when I was younger. It’s a completely different sport, the way these guys play the game. But I think the speed and power of the ’90s game that I loved growing up, it’s coming back.

What was it like for you to be in the World Series — what was the feeling like? And what would you want to tell some of the players who are experiencing that for the first time right now?

Sabathia: I think the biggest thing for me: Everything was normal. I always treat every game like a big game. Every game is a big game to me, no matter whether it’s April in the Bronx or Game 1 of the World Series.

"Treat every game like it’s Game 1 of the World Series or Game 7 of the World Series, and you just go out and play every game like that."
CC Sabathia

So I’m on the mound, I’m doing my thing, it’s a normal night for me — Game 1 of the World Series. I normally did this thing when I was warming up: I would throw the last pitch, walk around the mound, throw the ball around and then throw it to A-Rod and I would grab it with my hand. So he tosses me the ball and I’m walking around to the back of the mound, getting ready to start the game, and I look down at the ball and it said “2009 World Series.” For the first time, I actually processed and thought about where I was actually at. My hand immediately got super sweaty. It was best for me not to even think about it.

My advice to the guys would be: All the games are the same. It’s the same game. Treat every game like it’s Game 1 of the World Series or Game 7 of the World Series, and you just go out and play every game like that.

Banner photo: CC Sabathia, left, with his sons Carter, center, and Carsten. (Photo credit: New York Yankees)

Ben Fox Rubin, vice president, editorial content, Mastercard