“To announce AJ Andrews as my first official sign, not only am I breaking barriers, but I’m bringing women along with me that have broken barriers,” the CAA agent tells Boardroom.
From a certain point of view, Amber Sabathia was already an agent long before she had the title officially emblazoned on her business cards.
She was revealed as the latest addition to the talent representation roster at CAA Baseball in May, but has spent the last two decades honing a keen ability to build brands, work a room or two, and bring fascinating people together directly alongside her husband, retired MLB All-Star CC Sabathia.
And on Sept. 23, the agency revealed her first talent signing: pro softball star AJ Andrews, who owns the distinction of being the only woman ever to receive a Rawlings Gold Glove, the award traditionally given to Major League Baseball’s best defensive players.
This kind of signing is not the handiwork of a sports business tenderfoot. Beginner’s luck doesn’t make you the first and only woman agent at CAA Baseball officially recruiting talent. In so many ways, she’s not new to this game — she’s been living just about every aspect of it for years.
Those are the makings of a fast-paced life, but Boardroom managed to catch up with Amber Sabathia to learn more about this latest phase of her career, the path to shaping her own distinct distinct professional life while married to a star athlete, and what we can expect from her partnership with Andrews in the years to come.
The following is Boardroom’s interview with Sabathia edited for length and lightly edited for clarity.
SAM DUNN: What brought you to CAA, and what made this announcement possible?
AMBER SABATHIA: I think everybody thought CC was going to come over with me. When the announcement was made, everyone was like, ‘Oh, they hired Amber because they wanted CC.’ And that was never the case. CAA was very open: ‘We think you’re the asset here and [we’d] love to have you as part of CAA Baseball.’ So, to be able to announce that AJ Andrews is my first official sign, not only am I breaking barriers in this MLB [and] sports world, I’m the first recruiting female agent at CAA Baseball.
But I’m also bringing women along with me that have broken barriers, and one of those women is AJ Andrews. I’m excited to tell her story and I’m excited to push what she’s accomplished thus far out to the media and really help build her brand, build her story, and make sure she’s represented in the right way.
SD: How do you describe the AJ Andrews brand?
AS: One of her biggest accomplishments is she’s the first woman to win a Rawlings Gold Glove. She was an All-American at LSU. Those types of things need to be brought into the light. She needs to be celebrated for that.
Being a woman and winning a Gold Glove — many baseball players out there have never won one, nor will they ever. CC never won a Gold Glove. I feel like AJ is a beautiful, smart, intelligent, amazing woman, but we need to celebrate her more.
In the baseball world, guys go to free agency and they get paid based off what they’ve done. AJ, it’s time for you to get paid off of what you’ve done and paid equally and right. You accomplished some things that some of these guys out here will never accomplish. I’m excited to represent her.
SD: What sealed the deal between the two of you?
AS: What got me is her sizzle [reel] she sent me that she made herself. She produced her own sizzle! She’s extremely well-spoken, educated, smart. She needs to go into broadcasting.
When we started talking about where she saw herself, it’s not just softball. She knows football, she knows basketball, she knows baseball. And so I said to her [that] this can go far, a career in sports broadcasting. And she’s like, ‘Well, let’s go.’
SD: How does the attitude of someone who’d cut her own reel translate onto the softball field?
AS: It’s exactly the type of person you would want to represent, right? If you always give everything 150%, then that’s what she’s doing [too].
She’s already thinking long-term for her career, already thinking of how she can impact the game of softball for her, and for the young girls coming up, how she can be a mentor for them. That’s what really drew me to her.
SD: More generally, what’s your approach to scouting new talent?
AS: Especially the younger players that I’m advising, I meet with their families. I watch them on and off the field. One of the things I was telling a kid: These scouts are out here watching them, but they’re not just watching your stats and the way that you play — they’re watching you.
Are you the kid that’s out there in the dirt and dragging the rake and helping your teammates? If it’s a game that you lost, are you the first one in the car crying, or are you out there trying to uplift your team? I want to represent a kid that knows it’s not just about your numbers; it’s about you as a person. I want to represent players that have that eager drive.
AJ reached out to me and after the announcement and she was like, ‘Amber, I’ve watched you. I’ve seen your spirit. I know what kind of person you are. That’s who I want to represent me.’
Immediately, that’s the type of person I want to represent. That equal support for each other, that they know I’m out there working hard for them. What they do on the field is their talent; I can’t support that in any way. But what I can do is support you off the field 150%.
SD: Talent recruiting you as opposed to the other way around must be serious affirmation.
AS: Absolutely. I think they see what I did off the field before I was even titled as an agent. They saw how I supported CC, and he has made it very clear that I was there every step of the way, especially with his final season. We had the “LegaCCy Gala” and the hashtag #LegaCCy spelled with two C’s, [that] was my baby. His legacy season, going to every city that he played in and bringing philanthropy into it and bringing kids from the Boys and Girls Club to every stadium, all that was kind of my masterminding.
And at that moment, I knew that I could do this for other players and help guide them in their careers from beginning to end.
SD: In linking up with AJ, did you pitch your services to her, or did she pitch herself to you?
AS: I have a mentor who was a female agent many, many years ago. I reached out to her as a woman in sports to mentor me. And when I told her that I was going to become an agent, she said the one thing you cannot do is go with the first agency you talk to.
SD: Who was this?
AS: Jean Afterman. She’s the assistant GM with the Yankees and deals with agents all the time, and she was the one who encouraged me to go interview with different agencies. And when I did all those interviews, I realized that CAA saw in me more than what I even saw in myself.
I talked to Lisa Metelus — she’s D-Wade’s agent. That was kind of the nail in the coffin; I was going with CAA. That’s where I want to be. That’s who I want to call family.
SD: What’s your relationship like with Jean?
AS: I look up to her. She’s one of the highest-ranking women in baseball. I’ve watched her for years with the Yankees. She originated as [Hideki] Matsui’s agent. Extremely intelligent woman.
It’s funny, I called her when I started this and I asked, ‘Will you be my mentor?’ almost like it was for a date. And for the past couple of years, we’ve jumped on calls and Zooms and she’s been great, just guiding me in the right direction.
Jean presented CC and I with an award one year, and when she was describing me, she used the word ‘effervescent. This is the only way I can define Amber.’ If you know her, you’ll know exactly why. She saw it, she supported it, and she pushed me.
I knew when I was going into this that there’s women that are breaking barriers and bringing other women along with them. Jean is one of those that is definitely encouraging other women in sports to follow their calling
SD: How do you balance being a friend to your clients with doing right by them professionally?
AS: What my clients ask for is honesty. Nobody wants it to be sugarcoated. No one wants to say, ‘oh, you’re going in the first round.’ They want you to tell them where they’re projected and what they need to work on — what the scouts are seeing. I think your clients will respect you more if you keep that line of communication open.
Yes, I want to be everybody’s friend, and yes, I’m a great time in regards to being social. But there’s times that you want them to see you as the person that they call. If there’s any issue, any problem, I want to be your first call. And so you have to keep that level of respect, that level of professionalism, and also be a great time. When it’s business, it’s business.
SD: Was there a defining moment when you felt you were finally, properly acknowledged for your own career? That you had professional sovereignty?
AS: I remember when I was 30, I fought so hard to not be “CC wife.”
I had started a clothing line called C Candy. It was very successful. We distributed it at all MLB stadiums. It was in every team store. It was in Modell’s. It was on MLB.com. It was awesome. And I was like, I have reached a point of success in my own career where I started this clothing line, I branded it, I marketed it, sold it. This is great.
But I remember I was fighting so hard to be Amber Sabathia, not CC’s wife. And then around 35, I realized that I built that success because of CC and it wasn’t hindering me. It only made me stronger. And it’s what got me into the rooms to sell the line and got me on the emails with MLB to get a licensing agreement. At that moment, I said, ‘hey, stop fighting it. You can’t shake that you’re CC’s wife. You can’t get away from it, you have to come to terms with [the fact] that it’s one of your strengths.’
You stop trying to fight it and stop trying to [make it] more than what it is. That’s what makes you Amber Sabathia. And it kinda just works itself out.
SD: How do you hope to work with AJ to grow softball as a sport, and are her goals bigger than just that?
AS: The College World Series is the most-viewed for softball. With my son and all his friends, that was all that was on the TV. They were at a tournament and they were like, ‘We gotta go watch the softball World Series.’ That was big for them.
AJ is on a certain platform, and I want to help bring softball up to a higher platform. This woman is not playing any games. She’s in for the long haul. This is her passion and this is her purpose, and I wanted to support that. If you want a softball league and you want to bring it to the national level, I’m here to support that.
She has the ideas for how to keep herself relevant, and she has the ideas for how to build her brands on social media and in the broadcasting space. She just needs someone to support her, and I’m here to do that. For us to bring different ideas to the table at CAA, they have the manpower to help build that.
SD: Could you envision yourself one day starting your own business? Your own agency?
AS: I’ve been asked this question: why didn’t I start that way? My answer is because I didn’t know everything. I knew that if I wanted to be taken seriously, I needed to dive in and really learn this game in all aspects, not just being married to an athlete and being his support system and being in the game for 20 years. I didn’t start my own agency because I knew I wasn’t there yet.
And so I say this: Never say never. It could be a goal of mine, possibly, but right now, I’m really happy where I am with the team that I have.
We very much appreciate our friends at CAA. It’s easy to wrap one’s head around the idea of why you would want to be a part of a team like that and the doors that they might’ve opened for you that perhaps weren’t necessarily available in every other type of place.
You never know where you’ll end up, but I’m super happy where I am right now. I’m really happy. And the people that I’m meeting and the people that I’m representing, I’m excited to share it. It’s not about me — it’s about those that I’m bringing along on this journey.