Mariners’ Robinson Cano makes it look easy
Mariners’ new superstar Robinson Cano says he believes in his team. “This team can compete with anybody, not only in our division, but the league,” he says.
Times staff columnist
Robinson Cano appears to be the most comfortable man on the planet. Nothing is too difficult, or daunting, for him. He doesn’t just make baseball look easy; he makes it look easy and elegant.
He even kicks dirt with grace.
So, of course, the Mariners’ new $240 million superstar wouldn’t admit to nervousness before his first game at Safeco Field. He just had “butterflies” from anticipation, not anxiety. He seemed more concerned about choosing his walk-up music than actually playing the game.
“Not yet,” Cano said when asked about the pressing musical matter in the dugout after batting practice. “When I go in, I’m going to decide.”
No surprise, he chose songs from his agent, rapper Jay Z.
And then, in his first home at-bat as a Mariner, with a sellout crowd of 45,661 analyzing his every move and expecting greatness, Cano hit into a double play to end the first inning.
It wasn’t a fairytale Safeco debut for Cano on Tuesday night, but who needs a Disney moment? The true story is more intriguing. Cano is yours. He’s Seattle sports royalty, and he’s a talent to behold, even if he grounds into the occasional double play.
On a fantastic opening night of revelry and remembrance, the Mariners welcomed the 2014 season in their typical grand fashion. As usual, they hit all the right notes: honoring the Seahawks’ Super Bowl triumph before Russell Wilson threw out the ceremonial first pitch; including a moment of silence for victims of the Snohomish County mudslide and Seattle University legend Eddie O’Brien (who died in February); continuing to keep Dave Niehaus’ voice sacred; and introducing the ballclub with the thundering accompaniment of fireworks.
The Mariners throw the best parties. Now, if only they could achieve something on the baseball field to warrant a more meaningful celebration.
That’s why Cano is here, to foster winning. And the Mariners have a 5-2 record after Tuesday’s 5-3 victory over the Los Angeles Angels. If they could play the Angels every game, they might go 162-0. So far this season, they are 4-0 against the overpriced team from down south.
Cano was 0 for 3 at the plate, but with Justin Smoak continuing to produce and Corey Hart belting two home runs, the Safeco opener turned into a showcase of the entire team’s potential. For a hitter as confident as Cano, it might’ve been better for his teammates to shine.
Cano is crazy enough to think the Mariners, who still have some glaring holes, can be a factor this season. And here’s what’s even crazier: When he speaks, you can’t help but nod your head.
“This team can compete with anybody, not only in our division, but the league,” Cano said. “In the past, everybody saw this team as young kids that need to learn and grow. Now, we’re in a different place, and that’s not something your rivals want to see.”
At 6:47 p.m. Tuesday night, 23 minutes before James Paxton’s first pitch, Cano ran down the long red carpet from the outfield to a loud ovation. He was introduced with a “Welcome to Seattle!” and, naturally, he ran around in his new home as if it weren’t foreign to him.
The love of his new hometown must’ve been a pleasant change for Cano, who was booed loudly in Anaheim and Oakland last week. It didn’t matter. He still entered Tuesday’s game with a .391 batting average.
“I’m not surprised,” Cano said of the boos. “They’re in the same division. So if I was a fan, I’d be the same way. You don’t want to see your opponent get better. I’ll take that. I don’t care about when we play on the road. I only care about my home crowd. That’s where you’re going to play more games than anywhere else.”
Cano had hit safely in all six games entering the home opener, so this was an off night for him. But he still drew a walk during the Mariners’ four-run third inning, when they rallied from a 3-0 deficit. And he made a tremendous defensive play to rob Raul Ibanez of an infield hit, hustling forward to field a slow roller and scooping the ball from his glove to Smoak’s glove at first base.
Clearly, Cano isn’t pressing. He isn’t concerned about living up to a $240 million contract. He isn’t worried that road fans will dog him all season because he’s worth more than some sports franchises. He’s just playing his smooth interpretation of the game.
“I’m the guy that hits line drives and can get a big hit in any situation,” Cano said. “I’m not going to put pressure on myself. I’m just going to go out there with the same swing. I’m just going to keep playing the same game that I’ve played for the past nine years.”
Those nine years led him here, to Seattle, to a quarter-billion dollars, and he admits, “This is new for me now.” But is it too much for him?
Is there such a thing for Cano?
“This is one of the days you dream of as a kid, coming in before your home crowd,” Cano said. “You get butterflies in your stomach and you hope you come up in a big situation and do your job and see how the crowd reacts.”
It was a rather humble home beginning. But don’t worry about Cano. He’s as steady as it gets in this arduous game.
He’s the most comfortable man on the planet, you know. And he’ll probably go 3 for 4 on Wednesday.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JerryBrewer