B/R Exclusive: Talking Baseball and More with CC Sabathia and Adrian Gonzalez

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistFebruary 17, 2012

B/R Exclusive: Talking Baseball and More with CC Sabathia and Adrian Gonzalez

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    Holding the door open for CC Sabathia and his agent, Brian Peters, is kind of a surreal experience. On one hand, it's simply being polite—I tend to hold the door open for anyone who is walking into or out of the same door that I am.

    On the other hand, you can't help but say to yourself, "That was CC Sabathia that just walked in the door."

    Sabathia, for those who don't know, is kind of a big deal.

    But that is exactly what happened yesterday when Sabathia and Boston Red Sox 1B Adrian Gonzalez, a big deal in his own right, were at the Sony Style Store in Manhattan to preview Sony's newest video game, MLB 12: The Show, due out in stores on March 6th.

    Bleacher Report was there and we sat down with the two superstars for a few minutes to talk baseball, video games, and the upcoming 2012 season.

    *Click here to see exclusive video of Adrian Gonzalez talking about his experiences during the creation of MLB 12: The Show and some stories about playing baseball growing up.

Video Games Are Not Just for Kids Anymore

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    For Adrian Gonzalez, thoughts that the infamous "Madden Curse*" could make the transition to MLB 12: The Show never entered his mind.

    "It's an honor to be on the cover, to be the face of the game this year," said Gonzalez. "Our agents (his own and CC Sabathia's) put this deal together with Sony and I didn't hesitate."

    Admittedly not a "hard-core" gamer like Sabathia, Boston's All-Star 1B only began to get into the game last year. "The one with Joe Mauer on the cover, 2011, that's the one I started to play. But I usually only play with my family. I'm not a hard-nose gamer but I definitely know how to play and I enjoy it."

    At the other end of the spectrum lies CC Sabathia, an avid gamer since he was young. "I've been playing video games for a long time" said Sabathia. "I had a PlayStation in the house until we had a kid and my wife threw it out. But he's eight now so he and I can play together and enjoy it—this, Madden, whatever—we just enjoy it and have fun."

    On top of that, CC has a carrying case that he brings with him on road trips during the season that contains a TV on one side and a PlayStation 3 on the other. He mentioned Nick Swisher, Brett Gardner and Chris Dickerson as the three teammates that present the biggest challenge, though I got the feeling that he doesn't really consider them to be much of a challenge at all.

    While CC plays for the love of the game, Adrian has started to play the game from another angle, one that was originally suggested to him by the game's developers. "Sometimes I play as the pitcher and pitch to myself. It shows you the hot and cold zones and recommends a pitch to throw. It's a different way to look at yourself as a player" he remarked.

    The game itself is quite impressive. As I walked around the event checking the game out on multiple televisions, it struck me—something that both Sabathia and Gonzalez agreed with—that if you were unaware that a video game was on and you walked into the room, at first glance you could easily mistake the game for an actual game being broadcast on TV. "They captured all the little details, down to guys' tattoos," said CC.

    *The "Madden Curse", for those who do not know, is the theory that whichever NFL superstar appears on the cover of the game suffers through an arduous season the same year, whether it be due to injury, poor performance or a combination of the two.

Like Everyone Else, They Are Intrigued

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    I asked the duo what rookies they were looking forward to seeing debut in MLB this season, with my thinking being that they would both bring up the Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim's Mike Trout.

    But to my surprise, they both mentioned the same two names—two names I hadn't considered as likely choices—Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers and Yoenis Cespedes of the Oakland A's.

    "I'm curious to see how the outfielder that Oakland just signed (Cespedes) and Darvish in Texas do," said Sabathia. "I think they'll be fun to watch."

    It won't be long into the season before they both get a first-hand view of the international phenoms.

    The Yankees travel to Arlington to start a three-game series against the Rangers on Monday, April 23rd. Just about a month later, the Yankees will travel to Oakland to start a six-game west coast trip.

    For the Red Sox, they will welcome Texas into Beantown for a two-game series on Tuesday, April 17th while Oakland comes to Boston for a three-game set just over two weeks later on Monday, April 30th.

I Didn't Know He Could Do That

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    Every season there a handful of players who seemingly come out of nowhere, those who enjoy their "breakout" campaigns.

    I posed the question to Gonzalez and Sabathia, and both stayed close to home.

    "For us, either Mike Aviles or Nick Punto, whoever wins that job," said Adrian. "They will have a chance to just be themselves."

    With the departures of Marco Scutaro and Jed Lowrie, Boston will have a new face at shortstop in 2012, and since über prospect Jose Iglesias does not appear likely* to come north with the club after spring training, one of the two veterans will likely get the nod from new Boston manager Bobby Valentine.

    CC pointed not to one person, but a group of people. "Our rotation. We have a lot of good arms and it's going to be a good competition. Pitching is the strength of our team and we all need to be at the top of our games."

    The addition of Michael Pineda and the pending departure of A.J. Burnett ensure that the Yankees' rotation will have a different look and feel from what it was a year ago, though Sabathia remains as the workhorse, ace, and leader of the group.

    *You may need a premium subscription to Baseball America to access the full story

Scouting Each Other

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    Sometimes, a pitcher just has a hitter's number.

    That seems to be the case with CC Sabathia when he toes the rubber against Adrian Gonzalez.

    In 29 plate appearances (25 official at-bats), Gonzalez has put up very un-Gonzalez-like numbers—a .200 average with one home run, five RBI, three walks and 11 strikeouts.

    "Have you seen him pitch?" replied Gonzalez when I asked him what the hardest part about hitting against CC was. "It's the whole package. You can ask any of my teammates—I always tell them when you're going against a guy like CC, you go in with the mentality that you're going to go 0-for-4 and then you get a hit and it puts a big smile ear-to-ear. Guys like him, you just take what you can get."

    CC was quick to compliment Adrian: "He covers the whole plate every pitch, and it's tough. We've faced each other a bunch now after last year and it's tough when you're out there, you don't really know what to do, so you try to let him get himself out."

    Assuming that the Yankees' rotation stays in order for the first few weeks of the season, Sabathia and Gonzalez are on track to re-connect on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball on April 22nd when the Yankees and Red Sox finish off a three-game series at Fenway Park.

The AL East Is Still a Beast

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    Nearly every season for the past 15 years, the AL East has been called the toughest division in baseball.

    While the Yankees, Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays lead the way, the Toronto Blue Jays are right on their heels and the Baltimore Orioles continue to improve their young, developing team.

    "Top to bottom, there is a lot of talent in the division," said Gonzalez. "It'll be fun. People want to single out teams to be the favorites but you have to play the games on the field. You can't guarantee anything."

    Sabathia agreed: "I think, my own personal opinion, from playing in it for a few years that it is the toughest division in baseball. The games are tough and you need to win those games to win the division."

    Both the Yankees and Red Sox will jump into division play early in the season—the Yankees open the season with a three-game series in Tampa on April 6th while the Red Sox travel to Toronto for three games on April 9th.

Closing Thoughts

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    Adrian Gonzalez and CC Sabathia are two of the best that the game of baseball has to offer—perennial All-Stars and yearly contenders for the MVP and Cy Young awards, respectively.

    I feel that I would be remiss if I didn't mention this, because it's been one of the first things that I've told people who have asked me about the interview—CC and Adrian are two of the most affable, down-to-earth superstars that I have ever encountered.

    Keep in mind that I worked in the NBA for three years and with players outside of the league for a year after that, so I have a basis for comparison. While it is a different sport and a different atmosphere, at the end of the day, a superstar is a superstar

    It's not where I had some preconceived notion of the kind of people that they were heading into the event, because I didn't. But I found it refreshing that talking to them was just like talking to you, or my family and friends—casual and easy. It felt more like a conversation then an interview, and I am sure that their easy nature lends itself to the camaraderie that they share with their teammates.

    There are a few other things which we discussed that you will see on Bleacher Report in the coming days—so keep an eye out for those. Or, make sure you are receiving our excellent B/R Team Stream MLB newsletter so you don't miss anything. Or even better—do both.

    Spring training is upon us, and the regular season draws closer with each passing day. Before we know it, the familiar cry of "play ball!" will echo through stadiums across the country.

    Thanks for reading.