PEORIA, Ariz. – They followed his every move. From the time he emerged from the clubhouse clad in a Mariners uniform to the time he walked off the field smiling and soaked with sweat from a sun-drenched workout and the time in between — all eyes were focused on Robinson Cano and his first full workout Tuesday.
Wherever Cano went, the attention followed him like a shadow. A slew of television cameras, photographers, media, curious Mariners employees and plenty of fans watched him stretch, warm up, play catch, take ground balls, work on bunt coverage, take batting practice and condition.
Not since Ichiro signed with Seattle before the 2001 season has there been this much excitement surrounding an offseason acquisition. For some fans, it seemed as though they had to see it in person to believe it.
Cano left the Yankees — the only team he’s ever known — after nine big-league seasons for a 10-year, $240 million contract and the subsequent consternation following the decision. Now he’s happy just to get back to the normalcy of playing baseball.
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Cano was in good spirits, chatting up teammates in the clubhouse and waving and smiling to fans calling his name.
“It feels good,” he said. “It was exciting. I got to spend time with teammates and coaches. It’s a new team with all new faces.”
Those new faces wore looks of amazement at times as they watched their new No. 3 hitter go about his business.
“Amazing,” said Kyle Seager when asked about Cano’s flawlessly sweet left-handed swing.
Brad Miller just shook his head at the idea of flipping balls to Cano for double plays.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Miller said. “He’s a player I’ve followed for a long time. I think everybody is excited.”
That includes the Mariners’ biggest star — Felix Hernandez, who went straight to Cano’s locker, where he was seated, to welcome him.
“He can really hit,” Hernandez said. “I’m just glad I don’t have to face him.”
Cano met with the unusually large media contingent after the workout. He tried to say all the right things to questions he’s been asked more than a few times since signing the contract.
When asked if the Mariners were close to being a playoff team, he was diplomatic.
“I don’t want to say we are close,” he said. “But I know we have a team that we can go out here and compete. We have some good young talent, good pitching. That’s why I won’t say we’ll be in first place, second place or last place. We’ve just got to play together and stick together and we can do a lot of good things.”
He was peppered plenty about being a leader now that he no longer has Derek Jeter next to him. Cano knows there are responsibilities and expectations that come with signing a gargantuan contract. One of them is being a leader for a team that’s got plenty of young players.
“Of course, I want to share with the young guys all the things I learned back in New York and all those good experiences I had and what it takes to make it to the playoffs and what it takes to make it to the championship,” he said.
But don’t expect him to be a player out there yelling and making a production of it.
“I like to lead by example,” he said. “When you talk too much, nobody listens. I’m going to go out and try to play every day, and that’s the biggest example you can show a kid, by how hard you work and how good you prepare yourself in the offseason so you can play 162 games.”
Cano didn’t want to talk about the Yankees or his thoughts about the organization. He’s trying to move on.
“All I can tell you is I’m happy to be here,” Cano said. “I’m excited. It’s even more fun than I thought, the way I’ve been embraced by teammates, coaching staff, the manager, front office. I feel like I’m a big part of this team right away.”
He feels enough of a part of the team to jokingly lobby for the team to sign his friend Nelson Cruz. The slugging free-agent outfielder is unsigned, but has had talks with Mariners management.
“I wish we had Nelson here,” Cano said. “But at the same time we have a front office and they know what we have to do and what they have to 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 and in the outfield.”
The Mariners and baseball fans know what Cano can do with his bat and in the infield. It’s why he was signed to the franchise’s largest free-agent contract. It’s why there was so much hoopla surrounding that first workout.
“It’s not going to take me long to get used to this uniform and this team,” he said.
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373
On Twitter: @RyanDivish