By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Robinson Cano sat beneath a stocking cap on the Seattle Mariners’ bench Saturday morning with his hands shoved in the pockets of his jacket to ward off the chill as FanFest kicked off its opening moments at Safeco Field.
Freshly arrived from the Dominican Republic, where he said temperatures hovered in the 90s, Cano insisted he was happy to be here while beaming the wide smile that seems certain to evolve into a Mariners’ marketing tool.
“This is a new team for me,” he said. “I’ve never done this before, meeting with the fans (in a FanFest format). This is really nice for myself. New team. New city. It’s good to get with the fans before the season starts.”
It was a little more than a month ago that Cano, 31, stunned the baseball world in walking away from his 12-year history with the New York Yankees by agreeing to a 10-year deal with the Mariners for $240 million.
And while he stresses the need to view the Mariners as a team — “It’s not about one player” — Cano also makes it clear he prefers to look ahead and not astern.
He deftly turned aside the latest serving of what might be the winter’s most-asked question, one he acknowledges he heard often from friends and family over the last several weeks: Why leave New York?
“That’s a thing I don’t want to talk about anymore,” Cano said. “I just want to leave that in the past. Now, I’m a Seattle Mariner. I just want to talk about Seattle, a new city, new teammates, new manager and new fans.
“I want to talk about this season.”
Fair enough. How about this: Can the Mariners win this season?
“Of course,” he said. “We’ve got one of the best starting pitchers in the game (in Felix Hernandez). No matter how many hitters you have, you always need pitching. With pitching, you can go anywhere you want.
“If you’ve just got hitters, you don’t go anywhere.”
The still-unanswered question, of course, is whether the Mariners have enough hitters (or enough pitchers, for that matter) to go anywhere as the calendar tightens toward the Feb. 12 start of spring training.
That’s all to be determined, but on this day, Cano fought the chill (not bad, really, by Northwest standards) by warming to the possibilities he sees in his new professional home.
“This is a team, I know from talking to the owners, that wants to (win) a championship,” he said. “That’s the place I want to go after playing in New York. You want to go where you can be able to win another championship.”
And later: “This city is about sports,” he said. “You see when the Seahawks play, how packed the stadium is. And the soccer (team). It’s about winning. I know if I’m a fan, I want to go see a good team … I can’t wait for the season.
“What’s it going to take (for the Mariners)? We’re going to have to win first … We’re going to play hard … I hope God helps us to win a lot of games so we can bring the fans to the stadium.”
Whatever happens — good, bad or indifferent — Cano knows he will be the lightning rod for public attention even as he argues he isn’t the only face of the franchise (yes, there’s Hernandez).
“I’m ready for it,” Cano said. “I’ve been in New York, where there’s media all day … that comes with the territory, and I’m going to do my best for a young team with young guys.
“I want to motivate the guys in what it takes to win games and how fun it is to win — when you go to the playoffs and when you win a World Series.”
Braving the Saturday chill at Safeco was a small step in that direction.
Cano was the event’s leadoff hitter; the first to face the media, the first to handle questions from fans and among the first at the autograph tables.
“It’s tremendous that he’s come in for this,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “We’re glad that he did … I think it’s really good for him, and it’s good for the community.”
Cano’s plans called for some house-hunting Saturday night in Seattle before returning Sunday for the conclusion to FanFest’s two-day run. Then it’s back to the Dominican Republic.
“I’ve got to start practice again,” he said. “It’s too close to spring training to be away. I’m already going to miss three or four days of practice.”
Even so, Cano viewed the 3,500-plus-mile trip as a must.
“A new team,” he said, “it’s good to get a chance to be around the fans. This is the only chance you have all year to get close for more than five or 10 minutes. It’s for two days. It’s good.”
Reaction from fans suggested a mutual enthusiasm. Heads turned as Cano worked his way through his FanFest commitments.
That included Zduriencik, who paused at one point to study Cano, then seated atop the Mariners’ dugout and taking questions from fans after first flipping T-shirts to the crowd while flashing a Carteresque smile.
“He’s got his stocking hat on,” Zduriencik said, “and I don’t blame him. But he looks good.”