TAMPA, Fla. -- He was supposed to be the biggest ring in the 2009 Yankees circus. Well never mind.
Oh sure, there was a time when the sight of Carsten Charles (CC) Sabathia bursting through the gates of George M. Steinbrenner Field seemed like it might actually be a gigantic event in Yankee Land.
But that was sooooooo last week.
So there was the inimitable CC on Friday, on his very first day of enrollment at Bronx Zoo University, learning an invaluable lesson:
When you're a Yankee, you're never more than a back-page headline away from going from Most Monstrous Story in the Yankees Universe to $161-million subplot in, like, 14 seconds.
Asked Friday if he ever could have imagined he wouldn't even be the biggest story on this team on his first day with this team, Sabathia chuckled and said: "Well, I was hoping I wouldn't be."
But who knew his new best bud, A-Rod, would come along and actually enable him to pull that off? How miraculous was that?
So it was Yankee Theater of the Absurd at its absolute finest Friday to see Sabathia, leaning back in the dugout at Steinbrenner Field, answering questions about a teammate who has never technically even been his teammate. (A-Rod, for you technocrats, won't set up his ring in this big top until Tuesday.)
But he'd better get used to it.
Best we can figure, the A-Rod questions won't fade until about 2028. So Sabathia and all his new Yankees pals are going to need to work on their answers to every prospective A-Rod inquiry under the Florida sun, because us trusty media inquisitors are already firing them out there at quite the impressive clip.
And judging by the answer CC gave to his very first A-Rod question of 2009, his A-Rod spin cycle is going to need just as much work this spring as his change-up.
Question: "When you first heard the news of Alex, what was the first thing you thought? Was it anything along the lines of: I can't believe this is the way spring training starts for our team?"
Answer: "No, I didn't think it would be that huge of a deal. I mean, I just said it's unfortunate that it had to come out in the way it did. And that was kind of my first reaction."
All right, let's digest that for a moment. He didn't think it would be that huge of a deal?
You know how often you hear people say that no player can ever imagine what life as a Yankee is like until he lives it?
Was that answer living proof of that, or what?
Now don't get us wrong. CC Sabathia is clearly a bright enough guy, a charismatic personality and as talented a pitcher as you can find on this earth. He's also proven through the years he's not afraid to stand up, rise to every occasion, accept responsibility and answer every question that knuckleheads like us might ask.
But he's also a man who has spent every moment of his career pitching for teams in Cleveland and Milwaukee, where the definition of "controversy" is: That two-strike call the plate ump missed in the eighth inning.
So while we sincerely believe him when he says he's "excited to be a part of this" and he's "looking forward to being a Yankee," he should also know this:
He has no idea what he's in for.
He has no idea what's right around the next bend in the highway.
He can't, can't possibly -- because no one does, not until they've seen it, breathed it, lived it.
So when he talks about how much he enjoys "the big stage," we think: He can't even imagine all the stuff that might show up on that stage these next seven years.
And when he says he doesn't see how anyone can "put any more pressure on me than the pressure I can put on myself," we think: Have you done much reading from "The Hank Steinbrenner Quote Book?"
So he's just signed up for a whole different ride on a whole different carousel than any he's ever ridden before, whether he knows it or not. Granted, he's a man who seems thoroughly equipped to handle that ride. But he'd better buckle that seat belt nonetheless.
It's been great. Of course, I only got here about eight hours ago."
”-- CC Sabathia
Luckily, he's going to have a front-row seat when the real tidal wave hits next week. When Alex Rodriguez pulls into town, CC Sabathia will get to see exactly how thunderously the USS Yankee can shake when the seas get rough.
He'll see that unlike himself, A-Rod won't get to lean comfortably back in the first-base dugout and yuk it up with the local media hordes. Ohhhh no. He'll be marched out to the same media tent, behind the third-base stands, where Andy Pettitte told his own HGH tales last spring. And fun definitely won't be had by all.
"That was tough on me last year, to deal with that," Pettitte said Friday, his heart pounding at the mere thought of it. "That's definitely a tough situation, any time something like that gets thrown out into the public, especially in the spotlight that we are here in New York."
Hey, ya think? So when Pettitte said of A-Rod, "I'm just praying for him, and I hope he makes the right decisions," we can only say: He'd better pray. As hard as he can pray.
It's this simple: The fate of Andy Pettitte, and CC Sabathia, and all their teammates, may very well depend on how Alex Rodriguez survives this spectacle. So they'll need every prayer in the prayer book. And maybe some that aren't.
For his part, Pettitte said he's still amazed by how little abuse he took from the hecklers in the seats last year.
"I don't know why. It was kind of like a little miracle from God," he said.
But because Andy Pettitte has spent 11 seasons as a Yankee, he knows exactly what his third baseman is in for -- and it won't be any miracles from God.
"I'm sure he's going to get a lot [of grief]," Pettitte said, "because he obviously always gets a lot. He's used to being beat up on the road, for sure."
But whatever kind of beating A-Rod has taken up 'til now -- for the money, for Madonna, for his missing-person acts in October -- those were just the warmup acts for the lovefest he's in for now, unless he's a better spinmaster than we think.
The guys who have been around this carnival -- they know. So they're already gearing up. But the men who just spun through this door for the first time, however -- like CC Sabathia -- they have no idea. Can't possibly.
So CC is in for a show, all right. The show of all shows. And if he's smart, he'll take notes. Lots of notes. They'll come in handy.
Not because anybody expects him to ever find himself in the middle of a firestorm like this. Just because it's New York. And it's always something.
So as CC Sabathia sat back in that dugout Friday, he was asked what life has been like since he arrived in this camp. He flashed a smile as wide as Tampa Bay.
"It's been great," he replied. "Of course, I only got here about eight hours ago."
Hey, cool. So far, so good. And now only seven years to go.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.