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The new CC Sabathia happy to be back in his old uniform once again

TAMPA - "I'm super excited. This is my tenth season as a Yankee now, and it's just a blessing to be able to be here and be a Yankee again for sure."

Those are the words of CC Sabathia, who re-signed with the Yankees this winter to try to finish some unfinished business - namely, to win a World Series. Sabathia had other offers, including one from division-rival Toronto, but after saying "I want to come back and see this thing through" after last year's loss in ALCS Game 7, the lefty stayed true to his word and re-signed when the offer came.

"I mean, this is always the place that you want to play, but you have to be wanted, too," he said. "I didn't know what the organization was going to do pitching-wise, so I looked at everything, but I'm happy that they were able to bring me back, and I was excited to still be a part of it."

It was indeed a disappointing end to last season for Sabathia and the Yankees, who took a 3-2 lead in the ALCS before losing Games 6 and 7 in Houston. The playoffs were especially Jekyll-and-Hyde, as the team went 6-0 at home but just 1-6 on the road, the lone win in Game 5 of the ALDS in Cleveland.

If only things had been slightly different, well, Sabathia believes the Yankees could've already brought home World Series title number 28.

"I think if we had one more game in Yankee Stadium, we would've been in the World Series for sure," he said. "It was awesome, just seeing the energy in the Stadium and knowing the city was rallying behind us - all that energy, it felt kind of like we were in the old Stadium again."

That playoff exit was also the end of a tumultuous season overall for CC, who actually contemplated retirement after suffering what turned out to be a minor knee tweak in Toronto in August.

"Sitting in that clubhouse, I was ready to retire; I was just over it, sick of dealing with everything I've gone through with my knee over the last few years, and it just kind of came to a head," Sabathia admitted. "But then I talked to (wife) Amber that night, and I talked to a bunch of friends, and I just kind of wanted to try to come up with a plan to at least get through the season."

He did just that, crediting Stevie Donohue and the Yankees' training staff for getting him ready, and he ended up posting a 3.86 ERA in August and a 3.62 mark in September - his two best single-month marks of the season, outside of his miniscule 0.4 ERA in an abbreviated June.

That, along with the way the season ended, motivated Sabathia to come back stronger than ever for 2018, and he began that process as soon as possible - even putting parts of his workouts out on social media for the first time, to draw an extra source of motivation from the fans.

"What you saw is normally what I do in the off-season, I just never really posted on social media," Sabathia laughed. "I lift super early in the morning, and I did a lot of boxing. I know I have to get after it, because especially at this age, I have to do everything I can to be able to get my body in shape, and be ready to pitch and contribute for six months."

Part of that off-season focus was a radical diet change; Sabathia joked that he always comes to camp slender "so I can go to Krispy Kreme right away," but he actually went vegan for a spell in January, and only switched back just before reporting to camp because it was working too well.

"I was feeling great, but just kind of losing too much weight," CC said. "But yeah, I felt great doing it, and it just helps being aware of what you're eating and eating clean, so it's something I'll probably look back into doing once I retire."

And now, as he technically enters his third contract with the Yankees and second signed out of true free agency, he enters a clubhouse that's much different than the one he first entered in pinstripes, the one that finished the "Chase for 27" in 2009.

"When I came here in '09 we had a bunch of veterans and only a few new guys coming in," he said, "but now, it's a bunch of young guys and it's very energetic. The energy is still the same - we still want to go out and win the division and the World Series - but it's a younger group of guys, so it's a different feel in that way, and it's a lot of fun."

And Sabathia hopes, of course, that said fun carries over onto the field in 2018 the way it did last year.

"When we all get along, it makes us pull for one another that much harder," Sabathia said. "And I think that if you look at the way that last year went, and just watched our dugout and saw things like the Toe-night Show and the pitchers being out on the field - it's a different energy when the whole team gets together and really enjoys each other, and it's just a lot of fun to be a part of."

The World Series is the team goes, but as for himself? Well, a one-year contract means another walk year for Sabathia, and means that the next six or seven months will determine much of his baseball future, but he only has one true personal goal in mind.

"I just want to stay healthy," he said. "I don't really like to put numbers out there about wins or innings or things like that; I just want to be out there as long as I can, pitch as hard as I can every inning I'm out there, and try to win every game."

A sage piece of advice this potential future Hall of Famer learned many years ago from an actual one.

"When I was young, Bob Feller came to me one spring and asked me how many games I planned on winning that year," Sabathia recalled, "and I said 20. He then asked me how many starts I would get, and when I said maybe 30 or 35, he said, 'well, win 'em all!'"