By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
PEORIA, Ariz. — Robinson Cano fessed up. He admitted it felt strange Tuesday to don a Mariners uniform and take part in workouts with a new group of teammates after previously spending his entire career in pinstripes.
“I’m not going to lie,” he said. “I just realized that today. You know you signed with Seattle, but (it’s not until) you’re not on the field with your (old) teammates. You don’t see the faces you used to (seeing) for 13 years.
“But … I’m here now. I’m excited, and I can’t wait for the season to start.”
Cano arrived Tuesday when the Mariners conducted their first full-squad workout, and it made for an unmistakable buzz. Not just in the clubhouse but also from a sizable crowd that came for a look at the Peoria Sports Complex. Also on hand: a platoon of national media — including some from New York, where Cano, 31, spent the past nine seasons before signing a 10-year deal with the Mariners in December for $240 million.
This was the first chance for the Mariners to see Cano as a new teammate. Former Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez was one of the first of those teammates to greet Cano at his locker, which is located at the far end of the clubhouse where the room tapers to a point.
“He can hit a lot,” Hernandez said, “and I’m not going to have to face him. It’s all about winning. That’s all we need to do.”
Many then followed; a virtual pilgrimage.
Cano’s corner has open lockers on both sides, which effectively provides him with the first three stalls along the wall. There is a small bench across from his slot, and he is grouped near (let’s say) long shots to make the club.
The player located closest to Cano is outfielder Burt Reynolds. The row continues with outfielders James Jones and Conor Gillespie, infielder Chris then Taylor and outfielders Stefen Romero and Xavier Avery. Even so, space was tight, which is why the Mariners chose to limit media access to Cano to a post-workout session in a multi-purpose room at the rear side of their renovated complex.
He arrived after a brisk workout that, if not for strange surroundings, could not have been more routine: Grounders alongside Willie Bloomquist at second base; a series of bunt-defense drills; and a spot in the first hitting group with shortstop Brad Miller, first baseman Justin Smoak and third baseman Kyle Seager. Then shagging fly balls in right field while the other group assigned to Field 6 took its swings: Bloomquist, Nick Franklin, Logan Morrison and Mike Zunino.
When Cano slid behind a table armed with microphones, he made it clear he preferred to look ahead, to a future with the Mariners, rather than to his former days with the Yankees.
He wanted no part of the stir that Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long created earlier this week in chiding Cano for a habitual disinclination to run hard to first on ground balls.
“If somebody told me I was a dog,” Long said told the New York Daily News, “I’d have to fix that. When you choose not to, you leave yourself open to taking heat, and that’s your fault.
“For whatever reason, Robbie chose not to.”
Cano chose not to run out that challenge, either.
“I don’t even pay attention to that,” he said. “I just want to talk about Seattle. I’m here now. Whatever they said, I don’t want to pay attention to that.”
But Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon, speaking later to the same group of reporters, fired back hard at Long.
“Disappointed,” McClendon said. “Surprised. I didn’t know (Long) was the spokesman for the New York Yankees. … My concern is Robinson Cano in a Seattle Mariners’ uniform and what he does moving forward.
“I don’t give a (darn) what he did for Yankees. I have no concern whatsoever … Anytime anybody attacks one of my players, I’m going to defend him. And if you don’t like it, tough (stuff).”
For all that, McClendon said he expects a “fair effort” from Cano, and any other player, when running to first base.
“I remember the days when I hit a pop-up,” McClendon said, “and I was (ticked) off. You don’t run to first. Is that dogging it? I don’t think so. There’s a human element that comes with this game.
“You roll over and hit a ground ball to second base. Your head drops, and you’re a little disappointed. … Don’t get me wrong. My players understand I expect a good, fair effort every time out.”
Cano appears ready to embrace his role as the Mariners’ leader.
“Well, yes, of course,” he said. “I want to show those young guys all of the things that I’ve learned back in New York, all of those good experiences that I have. What it takes to make it to the playoffs and to win a championship.”
Even so, Cano said teammates must be receptive.
“If I see something,” he said, “I can tell them, but I’m not going to be a guy who says all of the time, `You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to do that.’ It’s like your son. You’ve got to let him do his thing, too.
“I like to go by example. If you talk too much, people don’t listen. I want to go out there, play every day, and that’s the biggest example you can show to the kids.”
In Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, Cano had the perfect role model for his new role, and he took a moment to acknowledge his former teammate, who plans to retire at the end of the season.
“He made that decision because he feels he wants to retire,” Cano said. “So you have to respect that decision. I learned a lot from him. He always was there for me. All I can say is thank you (for the help over) all of those years. He was guy who, if he saw something, he’d tell me right away. Those are the guys you want to be around.”
Now, though, Cano prefers to talk about his new teammates.
“All I can tell you now is that I’m happy to be here,” he said. “It’s even more fun than I thought it would be — the way I’ve been embraced by my teammates, the coaching staff, the manager and the front office.
“I feel like I’m a big part of this team right away. So it’s not going to take me too long to get used to this uniform.”