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Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Robinson Cano primed for new start

By Jerry Crasnick
ESPN.com

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Robinson Cano stepped onto a baseball field as a Seattle Mariner for the first time Tuesday with high expectations, the demands that a $240 million contract can bring and a piece of personal grooming that never was part of his grab bag in New York.

Officially liberated from the Yankees' ban on beards, Cano is wearing a growth that is similar to the one sported by Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz.

Robinson Cano
Life's already different for Robinson Cano in Seattle: The second baseman is sporting a beard, something players aren't allowed to do while with the Yankees.

"It's a little different," Cano said, smiling as he stroked his chin. "Now I know I don't have to shave every two days. I'm going to keep it. Let's see how good I do this year with this."

He was destined to attract a crowd on the day of Seattle's first full-squad workout of the spring, and several members of the national and New York media were here to chronicle the event. If the reporters were looking for a snippet of controversy, they didn't find it.

Cano declined to bite on the comments of Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long, who earlier this week critiqued the second baseman's habit of not always running out ground balls with the requisite zeal. Cano also danced around any suggestion that he might have misgivings or regrets about things not working out in New York. He took a pass when asked to express his feelings about Alex Rodriguez and the third baseman's Biogenesis-related suspension for all of 2014.

He did say a lot of nice things about former double-play partner Derek Jeter, who will meet the media Wednesday for the first time since announcing on Facebook his intention to retire at the end of the 2014 season. And Cano acknowledged that he wouldn't mind seeing the Mariners fortify their lineup with free-agent outfielder Nelson Cruz, who remains unsigned.

"I wish we had Nelson here, but we've got a front office," Cano said. "They know what they have to do, and they can decide. It's out of my hands. I know Nelson. He's a great guy, and we all know what he can do with his bat."

Cano, whose courtship with the Mariners assumed an extra layer of intrigue thanks to his decision to leave agent Scott Boras for Jay Z, went to a city on a sports-related high with the Seahawks having recently won their first Super Bowl title. The Mariners hope the combination of Cano, some evolving young position players and a rotation headed by Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma can propel them to their first postseason appearance since 2001.

Cano I like to go by example. When you talk too much, people don't listen. If you go out there and play every single day, that's the biggest example you can show to a kid.

-- Robinson Cano

At the very least, the Mariners expect the Cano-related buzz to help them reverse a lengthy attendance slide. After surpassing 3.5 million in attendance in 2001 and 2002, the Mariners fell below 1.8 million in each of the past two seasons. Cano's likeness adorns the team's season-ticket brochure, pocket schedule and information guide, so it's readily apparent that he'll be a focal point of the Mariners' marketing efforts.

His biggest impact will come between the lines.

The Mariners finished 12th in the American League with 624 runs scored and ranked 10th among the 15 AL clubs with a .695 team OPS last season. They will need to improve on that to compete with the Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels in the AL West.

New Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon, to no surprise, said he plans to bat Cano third and plug former Milwaukee Brewers slugger Corey Hart into the cleanup spot. Dustin Ackley is a leading candidate to hit leadoff. McClendon said he likes Kyle Seager in the No. 2 spot, but he's keeping his options open.

Cano took batting practice Tuesday in a group with Justin Smoak, Brad Miller and Seager, Seattle's projected infield around the horn this season. Between hitting line drives to right field and launching a few shots over the fence, Cano found time to bond with a few fans in attendance.

Jeff Bartley, a lifelong Mariners fans from San Diego, came here with his wife, Stephanie, and their 1-year-old son, Carter. When Carter waved at Cano, Seattle's $240 million second baseman waved back.

Robinson Cano
Robinson Cano is a focal point of the Mariners' marketing blitz.

"That shows he's humble," Stephanie Bartley said. "Just because he gets paid the big bucks, he's still going to be a fan guy. He's been all over the place. He's been all over the news, and for this little guy to wave and him to say 'Hey' right back, that's pretty cool."

Cano knows that questions about his contract will dominate the conversation, particularly if he underperforms his career norms or the Mariners fail to improve significantly on their 71-91 record of a year ago. But he is intent on blocking out the inevitable criticism and plans to be more of a leader by example to Seattle's young players than a big talker in the clubhouse or the dugout.

He hit .300 or better in seven of his nine seasons with New York, but he's even prouder of his games played totals -- 160, 159, 161, 160, 159, 161 and 160 -- in the seven seasons since 2007.

"I like to go by example," Cano said. "When you talk too much, people don't listen. If you go out there and play every single day, that's the biggest example you can show to a kid.

"When I signed here, the first thing they told me was, 'We didn't sign you so that you can do it all.' I'm not trying to put any pressure on myself. I'm not thinking, 'I have this contract, and I have to do this and that.' I'm just going to keep going out there and playing the same game I did in New York."

That's fine with McClendon, who has emphasized to Cano that he can't do it alone.

"Robinson Cano is an unbelievable person," McClendon said. "He's very intelligent and has a tremendous passion for what he does. He has a tremendous desire to win, to put his stamp on this team and be a big part of what we're trying to accomplish.

"I talked to him, and he told me, 'Mac, I've made a lot of money in this game. This is not all about the money. This is about being someplace where I have an opportunity to win and be appreciated.' We're happy to have Robinson as part of this family, and we're going to do everything we can to nourish him and make him the best player that he can be."