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Former Yankees Pitcher CC Sabathia Discusses His Road to Sobriety

Former New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia had a long and prolific career in baseball, which only recently concluded. As he settles into his retirement, Sabathia’s journey through Major League Baseball has been profiled in the new HBO documentary, Under the Grapefruit Tree.

In the film, Sabathia is open and honest about a particular struggle that was largely hidden from the public eye during his prime: he was addicted to alcohol for many years. While Sabathia revealed his struggles in the past, the documentary provides a new window into his addiction, as well as his road to sobriety.

In 2015, Sabathia admitted to the world that he had a drinking problem, and that had had been aware of the problem for about three years, or around the time he had a drunk-driving incident that was kept hidden from the public eye. At the time, he described himself as a “functioning alcoholic,” though after some soul-searching, he realized the depth of his addiction—and that he needed to seek professional help.

Speaking to ESPN, Sabathia said, “Whether it was wine or whatever, I was always drinking to get f—ed up. I was never drinking to enjoy alcohol. I don’t even know who does that. Alcohol is so nasty to me. I don’t even understand it.”

By the time Sabathia came to this realization, the Yankees were nearing the playoffs. Instead of sticking out the post-season run, Sabathia decided to leave abruptly to attend treatment, knowing that he was not able to put off the decision any longer.

After returning from rehab, Sabathia published an article for Derek Jeter’s online publication, the Player’s Tribune, where he detailed the motivation behind leaving the team to seek help. He wrote in part that, “So many of the major choices in my life, going back to when I was just a kid, have been baseball decisions. But this was a life decision.”

In that same article, Sabathia wrote candidly about his struggles, and reflected on his father, who also suffered with addiction and died when Sabathia was just 23 years old. Those reflections, coupled with the realization that he was hitting rock bottom in his own battle with substance abuse, pushed Sabathia to find help.

When Sabathia returned to the team, he noted in an interview with the Zach Gelb Show, he worried that he couldn’t pitch sober, stating that, “I didn’t know if I could pitch without the alcohol, which was crazy. But at 36 years old, I’m grateful that I did get the help because it allowed me to pitch for four more years after that.”

Sabathia was able to pitch sober—and very well, at that. He earned another opportunity to pitch in the playoffs in 2017, and again in 2018, before announcing his retirement at the end of the 2019 season.

Today, Sabathia is a sober man, thriving in his recovery—and his retirement from sports. The HBO documentary tells his full story, and serves as an inspiration to others who may be struggling with alcoholism behind closed doors.

“I always tell people, if you think you might have a problem, you probably have a problem,” Sabathia has said.

As a husband and father to four children, the now 40-year-old Sabathia has many reasons to celebrate, and many reasons to share his story with the world.

“But it might help somebody, so we put it out there. You never know when somebody could turn their lives around. The hardest part about facing addiction and alcoholism is actually facing it and telling somebody you need help. The last five years of my life have been great once I fessed up and said I needed help. Life has been really good. People always talk about sobriety and say everything is better, but I can attest that it really is,” Sabathia said.

As proof that sobriety provides a world of possibility, we celebrate Sabathia as he continues to thrive in this new chapter of his life.

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