NEW YORK — Will the Big Apple take a bite out of Robinson Cano?
That’s really the question — isn’t it? — as the Mariners make their only visit of the season this week to Yankee Stadium, which Cano called home for the previous nine years before free-agent riches lured him to the Northwest.
Even he isn’t sure what to expect over the next three nights when he returns, as an opponent, to the South Bronx.
Once viewed here as the heir apparent to longtime teammate Derek Jeter in the Yankee pantheon, Cano is now seen by many as the man who rejected that legacy for an extra helping of greenbacks in a baseball wilderness.
So can you go home again when home is no longer home? Will the fans who once roared his name in the nightly roll call, a still-stirring Yankees tradition, pay homage to his previous achievements, or is that bond now irrevocably broken?
Cano knows the answer, whatever it is, will be emotional.
“I would say a little bit,” he agreed. “Going back and playing there for the first time (since his departure), it’s going to be weird.”
Yankees fans generally embrace former stars on their return. Mostly, though, those are players whose careers had peaked, forcing them to move elsewhere while Yankees rebuilt with younger models.
This is different.
Cano, 31, shed his pinstripes at the height of his skills. He was the Yankees’ best player when he deemed their offer of $175 million over seven years insufficient.
Even now, he insists he wanted to stay. But when the Mariners offered $240 million over 10 years, and the Yankees refused to budge — well, hello Seattle.
And with that, Cano sought to turn the page.
He tends to deflect questions about those negotiations, saying he prefers to look to the future and not the past, but that will be difficult this week if the New York media, as only it can, arrives at full hurricane force.
The Mariners are already battening down.
Unable to accommodate all requests for one-on-one interviews concerning Cano’s return, there will be none. Instead, he will be available prior to Tuesday’s game in a news conference setting.
It is the only time, in New York, he plans to discuss the matter. (He will be available after games, as are all players, to answer game-related questions.)
“It’s our job to control the atmosphere and his access,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “That’s what we’ll do. Just like we protect all of our players. You only have so much access to them.
“After that, they’ve got to get ready to play baseball.”
For all that, Cano insists he’s not dreading the next few days.
“I’m not looking at it that way,” he said. “That would sound like I’m stressing about it. Or that I’m thinking about it too much.
“I’m just looking forward to going back and being able to see old teammates, friends and family. Guys who I went to school with. Guys I grew up with back home. I want to go back and walk around in the city.”
Those could be some interesting walks.
Cano’s decision surprised the Yankees and shocked their fans, many of whom always find it inconceivable anyone wouldn’t choose to play in New York if given the opportunity.
(That attitude isn’t unique to New York, but the force is strong here. It will be interesting, in this Cano-centric visit, to see whether Felix Hernandez fields his usual battery of “Wouldn’t you rather be a Yankee?” questions.)
It will be pointed out, perhaps nonstop, that Cano’s early days in Seattle aren’t going well. The Mariners, after a 5-2 start, arrive in New York at 10-14. Cano is batting .301 but has just one homer and 11 RBIs.
The Yankees, in contrast, sit atop the American League East.
Even many in the Northwest must wonder if regret ever creeps in. When asked, Cano dismisses the suggestion even as he acknowledges the reasons that prompt the question.
“I don’t want to say it’s been a good year,” he said. “But it’s only starting. It’s only been about a month. You can’t say it’s a bad year when you have five months left.
“We’re what? Five or six games behind (first-place Oakland)? I know we have a ballclub that can win. We have guys who can do a lot of good things in this game.”
When Cano says “we” these days, he means the Mariners.
It requires only one look, really, to grasp his break with the past. While the megawatt smile remains in place, Cano now sports a well-trimmed beard after years of adhering to the Yankees’ policy of no facial hair.
He’s not planning to shave it, either, for his return to New York.
“No chance,” Cano said. “Not bringing back the old days. It’s new days.”
So it’s a Seattle look?
Cano smiled. “I would say it’s a Robinson Cano look.”
Let’s see how New York firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @TNT_Mariners