Baseball-Sabathia outdueled alcoholism, now he wants to inspire others

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MLB: ALCS-Houston Astros at New York Yankees
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By Rory Carroll

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The hardest walk Yankees great CC Sabathia ever had to take wasn't to or from the pitcher's mound but came when he went from the players' cafeteria to manager Joe Girardi's office in 2015 to tell him he had a drinking problem.

Sabathia had suffered a series of alcohol-related incidents that year, including a brawl outside a Toronto nightclub, and the six-time All-Star and World Series champion knew he had to make a change.

"It was 100 feet but it felt like the Grand Canyon," Sabathia told Reuters. "That was the hardest walk ever."

The timing was far from ideal since the Yankees were about to begin a playoff push. It would have been easier to wait, but he knew he knew he couldn't afford to put it off any longer.

"Once I did that, everything from that moment forward has been great," he said.

The Vallejo, California native, now 40, started drinking at the age of 14 to cope with the pain of his parent's divorce and quickly realized that it was going to be a problem.

"I always knew that I was alcohol dependent," he said.

"From the very first night, because I liked to drink. It washed all of my pain away. I knew this was something I could do to lose myself for a couple hours and not really feel anything."

In the big leagues, where champagne-soaked clubhouse celebrations are as much of a tradition as the seventh inning stretch, Sabathia's drinking problem was easily concealed.

"In baseball, the culture is drinking. Being alcohol dependent is normalized in the game," he said.

"That fueled my drinking even more. On the bus, on the plane. As I got older, it led to different things. I would ruin holidays or ruin birthdays. I figured I should get some help."

HELPING OTHERS

Sabathia said that he now feels great and wants to help others struggling with alcohol dependency.

To that end he is working as a spokesman for biopharmaceutical company Alkermes' "My Relationship with Alcohol" https://www.myrelationshipwithalcohol.com campaign, which aims to help people identify whether they have a problem and provide them with next steps in seeking treatment. The company also produces Vivitrol, a drug used to treat alcoholism.

"It was the perfect thing for me to team up with Alkermes because I really had to rethink my relationship with alcohol," he said.

"It's such a big part of our culture. It's everywhere. It's at celebrations, it's there when you pitch a good game, if you win the World Series.

"And it's just not for me. It can't be a part of my life."

The clarity he has gained has helped him feel closer to his dad, who struggled with addiction before his death when Sabathia was 23-years-old.

It has led him to become a better father himself.

"He had the same thing and he wasn't able to come out of it. I know how much that hurt me," he said.

"And my relationship with my oldest son is a lot like mine and my father's was. We're best friends, we have a lot in common, and we think a lot alike.

"I don't want my sons or any of my kids to go through that. That's what made me make the change."

(Editing by Ed Osmond)