Return Man: Robinson Cano in NYC
It's homecoming week for Cano as he comes to Yankee Stadium with the Mariners
Robinson Cano accomplished a lot at Yankee Stadium -- helping his team to a world championship in its first season at the new ballpark, earning repeated starting spots on the All-Star team ... putting up with Alex Rodriguez.
On Tuesday night, though, he will do something entirely new at Yankee Stadium. He will walk into the visitors' clubhouse and take the field in a non-pinstriped uniform as his new team, the Seattle Mariners, open a three-game series against the Yankees.
"Hopefully, I'll be treated nice by the fans," Cano said. "And I'm just looking forward to going back and playing on the field where I first came up as a young kid, where I learned and grew up. And getting to see old teammates, especially Derek Jeter in his last year."
With Jeter retiring after this season, Cano could have been the face of the Yankees for years to come, anchoring a lineup that reached the playoffs in seven of his nine seasons in New York. Instead, he opted to sign a $240 million contract to play the next decade in Seattle, the only major league city that has never hosted a World Series, and for a team that hasn't even reached the postseason in 13 years.
Asked what Seattle's appeal was aside from the money, Cano said: "The team they have, the pitching staff, the bullpen is pretty good. We're a team that can win. We have a lot of young guys who are hungry and want to win."
Cano has started the young season hitting .301, but with only one home run, six extra-base hits and a .740 OPS. While the Yankees are in first place, the Mariners are four games under .500 and back in their customary fourth-place slot in the AL West.
"It's only starting. It's just about a month, so you can't say it's a bad year when you've got five months left," Cano said. "You can say that in September when it's almost over. And even then, maybe you can have a good month and put up some big numbers. Anything can happen in this game. We're [4½ games] behind, and I came here because I know we have a ballclub that can win. I know we can do a lot of good things in this game, and I'm excited about it."
Through 24 games, the Mariners have one more victory than they did at this point last season. They got off to a good start, sweeping their season-opening series in Anaheim, only to later lose eight games in a row. Their offense has been sputtering once again, and it took three late-inning rallies last week to get back somewhat on track.
Cano's lack of early production is not unprecedented. In 2012, he hit one home run with four doubles and four RBIs and had a .712 OPS in April. In 2008, his April OPS was even worse -- .446. He recovered each time, particularly in 2012 when he finished with a .313 average, a .929 OPS and a career-high 33 home runs.
"I was a guy who hit 30 homers one time," he said. "I'm not a guy they were looking to hit 40 home runs or 130 RBIs. Here, I just have to help them win some games."
Will he? And can he help recapture a Seattle fan base that led the majors in attendance in 2001 and 2002 but has dropped by half since then?
The Mariners ruled Seattle during that period, but the Super Bowl champion Seahawks are clearly on top now, with far more people wearing 12th Man shirts than Cano No. 22 jerseys. While Seattle fans still are more interested in another team's second baseman -- the Rangers have the contract rights to Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson -- attendance is up by almost a third after 11 home games.
The question Tuesday, however, is how New York fans will respond to Cano. Fans often boo prominent players when they switch teams as free agents, but it's unusual for a marquee player to leave the Yankees for more money -- primarily because, well, it's rare for any team to outbid the Yankees.
Cano said it will be weird to walk into a different clubhouse at Yankee Stadium and that it will be emotional returning to the field.
"I think everybody's different," Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said when asked how Cano will handle it. "You're going to have emotions. You want to do well against your old team. And I'm sure he wants to do well. Is there any animosity? I can't answer that for him."
Asked whether it would be good to have this series over with, Cano replied: "I'm not waiting for it to be over because that sounds like I'm stressed over it or thinking about it too much. I'm just going to go back and get to see friends, fans, family and guys I went to school with and grew up with back home. I'm going to go back and walk around the city."
And, the Mariners hope, he will trot around the bases in the Bronx a few times as well.
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