PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) — Robinson Cano balanced on one leg and stretched his arm, keeping in unison with the rest of the Seattle Mariners during their pre-workout stretch.
Click, click, click.
Fans wearing his No. 22 focused their smartphones and snapped shots. Photographers’ lenses followed him across the field from drill to drill.
The second baseman drew a crowd and was the center of attention for his first workout with the Mariners on Tuesday. The former New York Yankee might as well get used to it.
“Even more fun than what I thought,” Cano said afterward. “Being embraced by teammates, coaching staff, the manager, the front office — I feel like I’m part of this team right away. Not going to take long to get used to this uniform.”
Seattle fans have already warmed to him.
Approximately 200 fans showed up at Seattle’s spring training complex to watch the franchise’s new cornerstone do some stretching, some throwing and some fielding on a hot, sunny morning. Cano got a 10-year, $240 million deal to be the centerpiece of Seattle’s rebuilding.
On his first day, the fans followed him from field to field.
“There’s a lot more people than previous years,” said Matt Massot, 18, of Seattle, who wore a Cano shirt to his fourth spring training. “When you add Robinson Cano, it can’t get any more exciting.”
Seattle fans are celebrating their Super Bowl championship and hoping that Cano’s signing gets their baseball team turned around, too. The Mariners lost 101 games in 2008 and again in 2010.
They went 71-91 last season with a young roster that finished 25 games behind Oakland in the AL West. First-year manager Lloyd McClendon is trying to raise expectations in the clubhouse, which is one area where having Cano will definitely help. Cano chose Seattle over the Yankees, who are accustomed to high expectations.
“One of the messages that I’m trying to send to my players is we don’t have to take a backseat to anybody, and that includes the New York Yankees or anybody else,” McClendon said.
Cano sidestepped a question about how long it will take the Mariners to become a championship contender.
“I don’t want to say we are close, but I know we’ve got a team that can go out there and compete,” Cano said. “We’ve got some good, young talent. I don’t want to say we’re going to be in first place, second place, last place.
“I want to show these young guys all the things I learned in New York, the experiences I have, and what it takes to make it to the playoffs and win a championship.”
Of course, Mariners fans know firsthand that one high-profile player can’t turn a team into a winner. Seattle traded Ken Griffey Jr. — the face of the franchise — to the Cincinnati Reds before the 2000 season. Griffey got a nine-year, $116.5 million deal from his hometown team, which failed to reach the playoffs while he was part of it.
“That was pretty bleak in Seattle,” said Steve Tennyson, a retired teacher from Rochester, Wash., who was selling souvenirs at the spring training complex for the ninth year. “A lot of people still hold a grudge. They have a tough time getting over losing your icon.”
Tennyson stood next to a table of souvenirs that featured shirts with Cano’s number. Asked his reaction when he heard that Cano had chosen to play for the Mariners, Tennyson pumped his right fist.
“Yes!” he said. “They need an impact player. This will attract quality players. It may take a while.”
Cano brought some star power to the first day of full-squad workouts. After doing a group interview in part of a room that’s used for the team cafeteria, Cano stepped into a hallway that links the clubhouse and fields. A few television cameras followed, leading to another impromptu interview.
Several of his new teammates were heading to the fields carrying their bats. Instead of squeezing around the cameras, they stopped and watched for a few minutes, careful not to interrupt the interview.
It was Cano’s moment.
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