Cano returns to All-Star stage on new ground
Second baseman shining in leadership role with resurgent Mariners
MINNEAPOLIS -- The moment hasn't been lost on Robinson Cano.
Cano looks across the clubhouse of the American League All-Star team and sees Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, an All-Star in his 20th and final big league season and someone who helped mold the young Cano when he came up with the Yankees and was his double-play partner.
They are no longer teammates.
Cano signed a 10-year free-agent contract with the Mariners during the offseason.
And Cano no longer is the pupil. He's now the veteran in Seattle, helping a group of young and talented players make the transition from potential to results.
Cano's influence has been considered critical for the Mariners, who stumbled through an eight-game losing streak in mid-April. Instead of doubting themselves, as has been the case in the past, the Mariners became determined to show they could contend for a postseason spot.
They went into the All-Star break at 51-44, third place in the AL West and eight games behind Oakland. But they're leading the race for the second AL Wild Card spot in a bid to advance to the postseason for the first time since 2001.
The on-field efforts were recognized when Cano was voted to the AL All-Star team and Seattle teammates Felix Hernandez, Fernando Rodney and Kyle Seager were selected for the roster. Hernandez was named the starting pitcher for the AL.
It's the largest Mariners All-Star contingent since five players were selected in 2003. The franchise record was eight in 2001, when Seattle won 116 games.
"Cano has changed the whole dynamics of our team," said Seager. "When we lost the eight in a row, we didn't panic. We felt good about our team out of Spring Training, and we still felt good about our team. It was big with the veteran guys in the locker room. There was no panic."
Cano is the key veteran, but Rodney has been a critical part of the Mariners' success, too. He is 1-3, but has converted 27 of 29 saves and has a 1.93 ERA in 38 appearances.
And Rodney has welcomed the chance to have Cano playing in the infield behind him instead of standing at the plate in an opposing uniform. Cano is 3-for-10 with two doubles lifetime against Rodney.
"He is a good player," said Rodney. "He plays like Jeter. He does little things, like positioning himself. He waits to make a move so the hitter can't adjust. Not a big thing, but it makes a difference."
It is part of the package Seattle added when it signed Cano to the 10-year, $240 million contract in December.
Much has been made of the money, but Cano, 31, was quick to challenge that idea when it was raised by a member of the New York media on Monday.
"I never said it was about the biggest contract," said Cano. "I said it was about 10 years. I wanted to sign a contract that would allow me to finish my career in one place. Too many guys now get to be 36, 37 and their contract is up and they are looking for somewhere to play. I wanted to sign with a team that wanted me to finish my career."
The Mariners provided that security.
And in the first year of that 10-year deal, Cano is already paying dividends with the leadership role he has assumed.