Robinson Cano stroked his beard and laughed. No, he’s not planning to shave for his return to Yankee Stadium on Tuesday.
“No chance,” he said.
In nine seasons with the famously clean-shaven Yankees, Cano had 1,649 hits, 204 home runs, a .309 bating average and was a five-time All-Star. He also helped the Yankees win the 2009 World Series.
Now he’s back in New York with a new look, a new team and a new 10-year, $240 million contract he signed with the Mariners in December.
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He can also probably expect a new greeting from Yankees fans — at least a few chilly Bronx boos — in his first game against his old club on Tuesday night.
“It’s going to be weird,” the Mariners second baseman said. “Trust me, it’s going to feel a lot different being on the other side.”
Cano, surrounded by maybe a dozen Seattle media members, sat in the Mariners dugout before a game over the weekend and answered questions about his New York homecoming. In New York, the media mass will swell like church service on Easter Sunday.
“Hopefully good,” Cano said, when asked how he expects to be treated in New York. “The way that I left New York, it wasn’t a good way. You just go there to play the game and beat them.”
Cano turned down a seven-year, $175 million offer from the Yankees before signing with the Mariners. “I didn’t feel respect,” he said during his introductory news conference in Seattle on Dec. 11. “I didn’t get respect from them, and I didn’t see any effort.”
Last week, the Red Sox played a video tribute at Fenway Park when Jacoby Ellsbury returned to Boston as a member of the Yankees, who signed the former Red Sox center fielder for seven years and $153 million last winter. It’s unclear how Cano will be received at Yankee Stadium, but he expects to be “a little bit” emotional Tuesday night.
“He was a great player here,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi told reporters over the weekend. “He was a champion. He was a guy that played every day. …
“I’ve often said that the one thing that maybe was overlooked about him a little bit was his toughness. We saw plenty of times he’d get hit by a pitch and you didn’t think he’d play the next day, and he would. That was Robbie. Robbie loved to play, and he had a great smile and a lot of times made it look really easy. He was a really, really good Yankee.”
Cano said he’s excited to catch up with old friends and old teammates — “especially” Derek Jeter, playing his final season with the Yankees before retiring. Cano is also planning to walk around Manhattan, which can be difficult given his high-profile status.
“It’s really hard because I was there nine years and we won a championship and we were always in the playoffs. It’s tough,” he said. “But at the same time, I mean, they’re good fans and they give you privacy and I know I’ll be able to walk around.”
Cano was asked about the differences between playing in New York and Seattle.
“There’s a lot different,” he said. “You can see the way New York’s always crowded. The same thing, New York is a bigger city. It’s a team that has more championships, a team that always goes to the playoffs, a winning team. This, Seattle, is a different team, but like I said, we’ve got a team that — we can compete, and I’m excited to be here. That’s why I chose this city and I really like this city.”
On Sunday, the Mariners’ promotion at Safeco was a children’s T-shirt giveaway with Cano’s No. 22 on the back. The Mariners (10-14) then came back from a 5-0 deficit to beat Texas 6-5 — behind Kyle Seager’s fourth and fifth home runs in a four-game stretch — in the series finale.
Sunday evening, the Mariners flew cross-country to New York. On Monday, Cano was scheduled to make two television appearances: first, with the MTV2 show “Off the Bat from the MLB Fan Cave,” and then on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon.
A news conference with Cano is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, but after that the Mariners plan to limit his media availability for the rest of the three-game series.
“It’s our job to control the atmosphere and his access, and that’s what we’ll do,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said.
Through his first 24 games with the Mariners, Cano is hitting .301 with one home run and 11 RBI, with a .740 on-base plus slugging percentage. On the Mariners’ last trip — in which they went 1-6 against Texas and Miami — Cano said he expanded his strike zone. In those seven games, he hit just .209 (6 for 29) with no walks. That led to a short chat with McClendon.
“My talk with him was real simple: ‘Take your walks,’ ” McClendon said.
Back in Seattle last week, Cano looked more comfortable in his new home, collecting nine hits in 18 at-bats (plus two walks) during a six-game homestand. And since ending an eight-game losing streak, Cano’s new club has won three of four.
“I’m not a guy that’s looking for to hit 40 (homers) or 130 RBI,” he said. “I’m just here to help the team win some games.”
Back in his old city with his new team, that sentiment is, no doubt, especially true for Cano this week.
Adam Jude: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @a_jude.