At 26 the Indians' ace is beginning his seventh big league season (career record: 81-56) and is a major reason SI picked Cleveland to win the AL Central. One of only two prominent African-American starting pitchers in the majors -- the Marlins' Dontrelle Willis is the other -- Sabathia has called the scarcity of black major leaguers "a crisis." Personally, though, times are good. Set to earn $8.75 million this year, the Vallejo, Calif., native is married to his high school sweetheart, has two kids and he's getting giddy: The season opener is just days away.

On his off-season

I had surgery on my right knee, and I started two-a-day workouts in December. I would go from 9:30 to 11:30 and from 2:30 to 4:30. Lift, run, upper body. I lost 10, 15 pounds. This is going to be my third time pitching Opening Day, and it's exciting. Being able to set the tone for the team is big.

On the Indians' improved bullpen

It takes stress off. It doesn't change what you do, but you don't feel like I've got to get this out, finish the inning. You stick to your strategy, and when you're done, you've got the horses behind you. You feel at ease coming out of a game.

On his full name, Carsten Charles

My dad was the first, I'm a junior, and my son is the third. I call him Lil' C. My dad passed away in December '03, and I wear a black bracelet on my wrist to remember him. I haven't taken it off in three years.

On his mom, Margie

She used to put on full catcher's gear to catch me. I wouldn't do it unless she had on all the gear. I'd pitch to her for half an hour every day after school. She was a great athlete -- she played fast-pitch softball in a league. We did that until I was about 12, and I started throwing too hard for her. One day I hit her right on the palm, and that was it. She threw her glove down and walked off.

On his social life as a teenager

My mom worked nights as a telephone operator at Travis Air Force Base. She'd leave at 11 p.m., come back at eight a.m. -- perfect party hours. We'd have big parties until 7:30 then clean up. She never caught us.

On people who tell him, at 290 pounds, to lose weight

What do you want me to do? I'm a big guy [6'7"]. I'm an only child, but my cousins, my uncles, everybody's huge, 6'5", 6'6", 250. My grandfather was nearly 6'9". I work my ass off every day, so whoever wants to criticize me, tell them to come work out with me one day and see if they can hang.

On game-day superstitions

My wife [Amber] makes me a grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich on white bread before every home start. That's my only superstition -- it's been working.

On his kids

C.C. is three, my daughter Jaden is one. C.C. can hit a ball to the infield dirt. He's huge for his age, 3 1/2 feet, 45 pounds. When he was 1 1/2, people were like, Man, why does he still have a pacifier? And I'm like, He's still a baby!

On hitting

Love it. Off-season I take BP a few times a week with my high school coach. I try to get Eric [Wedge, Cleveland's manager] to put me in to pinch-hit; he'll just laugh. I love interleague. I hit a bomb against Cincinnati -- my best baseball moment. I tried to put my head down and look humble, but once I rounded third and looked in the dugout, I couldn't stop cheesin'.

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