CLEVELAND -- New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia remembers when Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James showed up to Progressive Field wearing a Yankees cap for an American League Division Series game between New York and the Cleveland Indians in 2007.
Back then, Sabathia was the ace of the Indians’ staff, and after going through that experience, he is not fully convinced that James is supporting the Indians in the best-of-five series against the Yankees, even though James was a very passionate supporter of Cleveland during last year’s run to Game 7 of the World Series.
“I know he’s a Yankee fan, but I think he has to put on a front for the city,” Sabathia said while meeting with the media prior to Game 1 of the 2017 ALDS at Progressive Field.
Indians manager Terry Francona also addressed the matter, and he had a different take on James’ rooting interests.
“I don’t think I need to be telling LeBron what to do, but I think he’ll be rooting for the Indians,” Francona said.
Francona and the Indians enjoyed plenty of support from the Cavaliers throughout the 2016 postseason, including James and several teammates joining him on the field to deliver a pep talk to the fans at Progressive Field. Similarly, the Indians have appeared at Quicken Loans Arena to fire up the crowd during the Cavaliers’ runs through the Eastern Conference in each of the last three years.
“I think it’s pretty cool that they want to show up and support the Indians,” Francona said. “I think it’s neat. It’s not going to help us score any runs or get the Yankees out, but still, yeah, it’s pretty cool. I think everybody enjoys that.
“I know last year, when LeBron kind of grabbed the microphone, I think everybody got a kick out of that, so no, I think it’s good.”
A first-round pick of the Indians in the 1998 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Sabathia spent parts of eight seasons in Cleveland before getting traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008, a deal that netted the Tribe outfielder Michael Brantley as the player to be named in exchange for the then-reigning AL Cy Young Award winner.
After a half-season with the Brewers, Sabathia signed a free-agent contract with the Yankees, has spent the past nine years in The Bronx, and considers New York home.
“I think I’m a Yankee now,” said Sabathia, who is scheduled to start Game 2 in Cleveland Friday night. “This is where I spent most of my career now. I’ve been nine years here. I won a championship here. I got to play with some great players, so I think people, I guess, remember me as a Yankee.”